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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Whistle-blowers' lament

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision Tuesday limiting whistle-blower rights leaves even casual observers to wonder. The First Amendment doesn't protect public employees who make complaints as part of their professional duties, the court majority said. But those rights would attach if that employee made that same complaint as a citizen contributing to the public discourse, perhaps at a news conference, the court seemed to say.

That distinction makes little sense. Sure, employers should expect employees to follow workplace procedures and have the right to discipline, or even fire, them if rules are violated. But talking about a workplace problem out of the office makes it acceptable? I doubt many employers would agree. Why did the high court make it so confusing?

The decision's most troubling aspect is the chilling effect it may have on public employees who want to report wrongdoing but now aren't sure how to go about it. Hopefully, it will encourage employers to stress their internal complaint procedures so that whistle-blowers know how to proceed to right a wrong at the workplace rather than going public.

6 Comments:

Anonymous NickFera said...

I've always suspected that many -- though not all -- whistle blowers are disgruntled misfits who use the technique in a desperate attempt to cling to fading relevance. It reminds me a little bit of sexual harassment lawsuits, but on a grander, and albeit sometimes nobler, scale. Regards.

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