OLYMPIA – Today, the state House voted 53-44 to pass the Worker Protection Act to allow workers to sue businesses on behalf of the state for violating labor and workplace standard laws. HB 1076 was introduced by Rep. Drew Hansen (D-Bainbridge Island).
“All workers should be paid the wages they are owed, given the breaks guaranteed in law, and protected in the workplace. But that isn’t always the case and in those unfortunate and thankfully rare occasions, workers need every tool available to them to get justice. The Worker Protection Act gives workers the chance to blow the whistle on bad activity they’re experiencing, or witnessing, and get relief for themselves or their coworkers,” said Hansen.
“All Washington workers — particularly Black, brown and immigrant workers on the front lines of the pandemic — need to know that existing wage and safety laws will protect them,” said Larry Brown, president of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “Too many face retaliation, intimidation or firing when they stand up for basic rights. The Worker Protection Act allows them to blow the whistle when they face discrimination or illegal treatment. That will help improve compliance with the law and ensure that all employers compete on a level playing field. We thank all the state representatives who voted to protect workers with HB 1076.”
Committee testimony from workers covered a variety of topics, including workplace violations for health and safety during the pandemic, wage theft and discrimination. While most businesses comply with workplace laws, this bill would expand workers’ rights to take on unscrupulous employers that are targeting workers and unfairly competing in the market. Simple violations, like technical bookkeeping mistakes, wouldn’t be allowed under HB 1076.
One of the biggest concerns for workers, particularly workers of color and undocumented immigrants, is retaliation from their employer, as those employers have already demonstrated they are willing to break state laws. Allowing other workers to pursue a qui tam suit is one way to protect those vulnerable workers.
The bill is now headed to the Senate for further consideration.