Whistleblowing is always a risky activity for any federal worker. Most employees of the federal government value their jobs, and many are motivated by a strong sense of public service, recognizing that what they do matters, protecting the safety of the public in dozens of roles.
The integrity of the food supply is important, as large, industrialized food processors and a nationwide transport system mean disease-carrying or contaminated food can arrive on consumer’s dinner tables in a short time.
Constant surveillance of this system is necessary, and part of the process is the employment of federal food inspectors in processing plants. A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector at hog slaughterhouse in Kansas noted that the plant violated various provisions of the Humane Method of Slaughter Act.
She reported the violation and the plant purported to have corrected the issue, but a later demonstration of their “corrected” process still indicated that some hogs were being improperly killed. She reported this continuing violation.
At that point, she was first reassigned to a post with lesser duties and then she was assigned to an unsuitable position. After that, the USDA began proceedings to remove her. She resigned because of the stress.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) obtained a stay of the termination from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) based on their concluding that these actions by USDA had been motivated by the inspector’s whistleblowing activity.
An agency’s actions are always suspect when an employee with a spotless 27-year record suddenly begins to suffer adverse job ratings and demotions after having reported violations of law or procedure to the agency.
Anytime an employee calls brings up issues that could be perceived as whistleblowing, they should be prepared to become a target, and if necessary, should obtain legal counsel to protect their job and career.
OSC.gov, “OSC Blocks Termination of Slaughterhouse Whistleblower,” U.S. Office of Special Counsel, August 21, 2014