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Legislature approves Barrett bill to protect state employees

LANSING, Mich. — The state Legislature on Wednesday passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Tom Barrett to ensure whistleblower protections for state employees.

Senate Bill 686 would protect state employees who communicate with members of the Legislature.

“Individuals employed by the state don’t relinquish their right of access to their elected representation,” said Barrett, R-Charlotte. “There are many reasons an employee might want to contact a member of the Legislature: to report illegal activity, get help with a state government issue or advocate their personal position on legislation, among others. Whatever the reason, they should not fear retribution from their employer.”

The Michigan Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) was created 40 years ago to protect employees from retribution if they report their employer to a public body for violation of a law, rule or regulation.

The WPA applies to all public and private employees except state classified civil service employees.

Since the 2006 budget, the Legislature has included boilerplate language within each budget that further strengthens whistleblower protections by prohibiting departments from taking disciplinary action against employees for communicating with the Legislature.

After the passage of the fiscal year 2020 budget, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer deemed this standard language unenforceable, signifying she would allow her departments to punish civil servants for talking to members of the Legislature.

“The governor’s action will have a chilling effect on state employees who want to report illegal activity happening within state government,” Barrett said. “What about employees who contact their legislative representation for help with issues unrelated to their state employment or advocating their personal position on legislation?

“There should never be retribution for these activities. My measure will help ensure that state employees are adequately protected.”

SB 686 now heads to the governor.