Ethics Commission
City and County of San Francisco

Whistleblower Retaliation Protections

The City and County of San Francisco has a paramount interest in protecting the integrity of its government institutions. To further this interest, City law provides a process for the reporting of improper governmental activity and protections for whistleblowers from being retaliated against for bringing their concerns to light. The City whistleblower laws protect City officers and employees from workplace retaliation in the form of adverse employment action for participating in any of the following protected activities:

  • Filing a complaint with the Ethics Commission, Controller, District Attorney or City Attorney, or a written complaint with the complainant’s department, alleging that a City officer or employee engaged in “improper government activity;”
  • Filing a complaint with the Controller’s Whistleblower Program; or
  • Cooperating with an investigation of a complaint conducted under the Ordinance.

The Whistleblower Ordinance defines “improper government activity” as:

  • Violating local campaign finance, lobbying, conflict of interests or governmental ethics laws, regulations, or rules;
  • Violating the California Penal Code by misusing City resources;
  • Created a specified and substantial danger to public health or safety by failing to perform duties required by the officer or employee’s City position; or
  • Abusing his or her City position to advance a private interest.

Adverse employment action includes termination, demotion, suspension or other similar adverse employment action.

Ethics Commission Jurisdiction

Investigating Whistleblower Complaints

For two years following the date of the alleged retaliation event, the Ethics Commission has jurisdiction to investigate whistleblower complaints alleging violations of campaign finance, lobbying, conflict of interest, or governmental ethics, regulations, or rules.

To file a complaint with the Ethics Commission, fill out our Complaint Form.

All other whistleblower complaints should be filed with the Controller’s Whistleblower Program.

Investigating Alleged Employment Retaliation

The Ethics Commission has jurisdiction to investigate alleged retaliation in the form of adverse employment action if the employee can demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the employee’s participation in a protected activity was a substantial motivating factor for the adverse employment action.

The employer may rebut this claim if it can demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have taken the same employment action irrespective of the complainant’s participation in protected activity.

Available Remedies

If the Commission finds that a City officer or employee unlawfully retaliated against another City officer or employee by taking an adverse employment action after learning that the employee engaged in protected activity, then the Commission may:

In addition, these remedies, any City officer or employee who believes he or she has been the subject of retaliation may bring a civil lawsuit against the City officer or employee who took the adverse employment action. Under the Whistleblower Ordinance, a California trial court may impose civil penalties up to $5,000.

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