I read an interesting article in the Engineering News Record (“ENR”) about employee whistle blower complaints and a flawed safety culture in a radioactive waste recyclying plant . Here is a link to the article. This article serves as a reminder of the importance of properly documenting and investigating employee complaints.

The article discusses an employee’s complaint that he was removed from a facility for raising safety concerns and the snowball of problems that this created for the employer. Not surprisingly, the employee challenged his termination by filing suit, claiming he was discriminated against for raising safety concerns. The employer probably was surprised when the employee’s complaint led to an investigation by a panel within the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. I bet the employer was also surprised when the employee testified before a Senate subcommittee on whistleblower issues.  And, I am certain the employer did not expect the employee’s testimony to lead, at least in part, to the Secretary of the Department of Labor issuing a five page memorandum to all Department of Energy complexes on safety culture issues.

We will probably never know what really happened at this work place, but it does provide food for thought on how you are dealing with complaining or difficult employees.   Employers are well advised to investigate concerns their employees raise and discuss them with their counsel before taking action. I can certainly assure you that any termination that results in a five page memo from the Secretary of the Department of Labor will be major issue for a very long time.