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But they just moved your office, so what?

One area for employer abuse in situations involving whistleblowers is in the realm of office location and responsibilities. Employers can, of course, fire a whistleblower, which makes for an open and obvious set of damages for the employee.

But what happens to a federal worker when the "punishment" for whistleblowing is not so clear? A woman who raised concerns at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital is currently living out this scenario. She had been the chief spokesperson for the hospital, but after she and a group of other employees raised concerns over a hospital director's handling of the budget, she was accused of improper conduct.

Apparently, she allowed her husband to upload photos from a VA-sponsored event to her computer for a presentation she was working to create. This was a technical violation of VA rules.

She was removed from her position, lost her email address and phone and she was moved to the library, which a short time later, was moved to the basement. In the federal government, whistleblowers have long been subjected to the humiliation of having their offices moved to closets and basements.

Ironically, those responsible for her move have been at the center of the Phoenix VA hospital scheduling scandal. Managers interested in hiding their own questionable conduct tend to be very suspicious and fearful of whistleblowers and may attempt to intimidate and silence them by this type of conduct.

As a federal employee, your best defense is keeping scrupulous records of all interaction with your supervisors, including memos, emails, phone calls and any direct conversations. The punishment you may be subjected to may be very subtle and your must build a detailed and complete record of all actions that are retaliatory or contribute to a hostile work environment.

Source: The Washington Post, "For whistleblowers, a bold move can be followed by one to department basement," David A. Fahrenthold, August 3, 2014

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