Washington’s Law Against Discrimination, codified as RCW 49.60.010, prohibits discrimination against any Washington inhabitant on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, families with children, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, age, veteran or military status, or the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability. The law is self-described as “an exercise of the police power of the state for the protection of public welfare, health, and peace of the people of this state, and in fulfillment of the provisions of the Constitution of this state concerning civil rights.” This law applies in many settings, but perhaps none more so than in the workplace.
Washington is considered an “at-will” employment state. Essentially, this means that either an employer or an employee may terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any reason, unless the employee has a contract with specific terms for termination. However, employers may not terminate employees for discriminatory reasons, as doing so would be a violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination. So, the employment relationship may only be terminated for a lawful reason.
If you are an employee and your employer discriminates against you in the workplace, you may have a cause of action which could result in monetary damages or reinstatement in your employment. However, just feeling that you have been treated unfairly is not enough for a discrimination claim. If you have been discharged, the burden is on you to prove that the discriminatory action played a substantial factor in your termination. This usually requires documentation and proof of the discriminatory actions, and their causal link to your termination.
If you are an employer, it is your job to ensure that discrimination has no place in the workplace you provide to your employees. Failing to do so could open you and your business up to liability for a workplace discrimination claim. Just because you have at-will employees does not mean that you or your employees can discriminate at will.
By Greg Simpson – Associate Attorney