Protection From Retaliation


Article IV of the San Francisco Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code ("SF C&GCC" or "the Ordinance") "protects all City officers and employees from retaliation for filing a complaint with, or providing information to, the Ethics Commission, Controller, District Attorney, City Attorney or complainant's department about improper government activity by City officers and employees." (See SF C&GCC section 4.100.)

Any current or former City officer or employee who believes s/he has been the subject of retaliation in violation the Ordinance may file a complaint with the Ethics Commission, which shall investigate or refer the complaint. (See SF C&GCC section 4.115(b)(1).)

What is "retaliation" under the Ordinance?

"Retaliation" is the "termination, demotion, suspension, or other similar adverse employment action" taken against any City officer or employee for having in good faith participated 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 governmental activity;
  • Filing a complaint with the Controller's Whistleblower Program; or
  • Cooperating with an investigation of a complaint conducted under the Ordinance.
"Improper government activity" includes the following:
  • Violating local campaign finance, lobbying, conflicts of interests or governmental ethics laws, regulations or rules;
  • Violating the California Penal Code by misusing City resources;
  • Creating 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.
(See SF C&GCC section 4.115(a).)

In order to establish retaliation under the Ordinance, a complainant must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the complainant's engagement in the protected activity was a "substantial motivating factor for the adverse employment action." The employer may rebut this claim if it demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have taken the same employment action irrespective of the complainant's participation in the protected activity. (See SF C&GCC section 4.115(b)(iii).)

What protections are provided to a whistleblower?

You are protected from adverse employment action if you filed a complaint as defined above or cooperated with an investigation of a complaint under this Ordinance.

What should you do if you believe that you have been subject to retaliation?

If you believe you have suffered an adverse employment action because of a complaint you filed as listed in SF C&GCC section 4.115(a) or because of your cooperation with an investigation under this Chapter, you must file a complaint with the Ethics Commission within two years after the date of the alleged retaliation. (See SF C&GCC section 4.115(b)(1).)

How do you report that you have been retaliated against?

It is strongly recommended that you speak with an Ethics Commission investigator in order to determine whether the matter about which you are complaining is within the Ethics Commission's jurisdiction. If it is not within the Ethics Commission's jurisdiction, staff will refer you to the most appropriate agency.

To speak with an investigator, please call the Ethics Commission at (415) 252-3100.

More information regarding filing a complaint with the Ethics Commission may be found at the following address:

Where can I find more information about the protection of whistleblowers?

See S.F. Campaign & Governmental Conduct Code (S.F. C&GC Code) § 4.100, et seq.

Where can you find more information about City employment-related matters?

All City employees may refer to the Department of Human Resources' Employee Handbook, which is available online at DHR's website: The handbook contains information on personnel rules, policies, procedures, services, benefits and more.