At Winterbauer & Diamond PLLC, our lawyers counsel and litigate with respect to all facets of federal, state and local government employment in Seattle, WA and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Our public sector clients include, and have included, cities, counties, police departments, firefighter departments, public housing authorities, public utility districts, educational institutions, public hospital districts, and most local government bodies that fall under the Washington Interlocal Cooperation Act.
Public Sector Employment Law
Public sector employment law is the collection of statutes, case law, rules and regulations which govern the relationship between government and its non-represented employees. Much of private sector employment law applies with equal force in the public sector. But much does not. There also are a large number of laws, rules, regulations and underlying policies that are unique to the public sector, that conflict with their private sector counterparts, and that may vary still further according to industry, occupation and/or type or level of governmental entity. For example, statutes, theories and procedures that are unique to, or of particular significance in, the public sector include due process and other constitutional rights, employer immunity defenses, civil service rules, and Loudermill hearings. Decisions that may seem routine in the private sector, such as the discipline or discharge of an employee for openly criticizing his or her supervisor, often require deeper and broader analysis in the public sector. Did the employee’s speech relate sufficiently to a matter of public concern to be protected? If so, did the employee nevertheless lose the protection through the method of communication? Does the employee have a property interest in his or her employment such that he or she is entitled to substantive or procedural due process? If not, do those rights arise by virtue of a liberty interest? These, and many other questions, are specific to public sector employment law.
Our lawyers offer advice and representation throughout Washington and the Pacific Northwest on all of these subjects, as well as all other public employment laws and issues, including, for example:
- Section 1981
- Section 1983
- Section 1985
- Drug and alcohol testing
- Personality testing
- Workplace searches
- Whistleblower rights, including under Washington’s State Employee Whistleblower Protection Act, RCW 42.40, and Local Government Whistleblower Protection Act, RCW 42.41 et seq.
- Open Public Meetings Acts
- Civil service commission rules and procedures
- City charter-based employment rules and procedures
- Appearance of fairness doctrine
- Civil Service Reform Act
- Affirmative action obligations
Public Sector Labor Law
Public sector labor law also has multiple points of both similarity and distinction relative to its private sector counterpart. Effective counseling and representation requires a thorough understanding of both. Public sector collective bargaining illustrates this point. In Washington, the bargaining process is governed principally by the Public Employees’ Collective Bargaining Act. Many of its provisions track those of the National Labor Relations Act. But there are important differences as well. For instance, many public sector employees, such as firefighters and commissioned law enforcement officers, do not have the right to strike in the event of an impasse in contract negotiations. Likewise, with respect to those particular employees, a public employer does not have the right to unilaterally implement its last and final offer. Instead, the parties must submit the bargaining impasse to an arbitrator for resolution through an interest arbitration process. The arbitrator makes a final, binding decision as to the disputed contract terms.
We have substantial knowledge of, and experience with, the public sector collective bargaining process, including representation in the context of interest arbitration. We also have substantial experience handling a full range of issues before the Public Employment Relations Commission, including, for example, the administration of elections and defense and prosecution of unfair labor practice charges and representation cases.