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Posts about Problems on the job

Police officer's suspension is overturned

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: July 9, 2010 - 9:26 AM

From my colleague Jane Friedmann:

A Richfield officer who continued a called-off police chase will get a written warning instead of a 12-hour suspension, after an arbitrator ruled in his favor last week.

In June 2009, canine officer Andrew Landon joined a chase on northbound Interstate 35W. The pursuit continued into downtown Minneapolis’ Warehouse District at bar closing time, when streets are bustling. 

Landon said he didn’t hear the chase was called off. Instead, he followed earlier instructions to take the lead so he could use his dog for any foot chase. A few blocks later, the suspect was nabbed at a blockade.

The arbitrator pointed out that Richfield’s policy leaves the decision to pursue with the officer. After viewing video footage the arbitrator also decided Landon was driving cautiously through the congestion.

Read the arbitrator's report here:

Nurse who gave meds to client loses job

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: May 20, 2010 - 10:00 AM
The state was right to fire Patti McPhail, a nurse at a chemical-dependency treatment center, for providing a client with a three-month supply of an addictive drug upon the client’s discharge in July, an arbitrator ruled this month.
McPhail’s employer, CARE, a state-run facility in Carlton, testified that the client had a history of abusing the drug, benzodiazepine, and with a three-month supply she was in “substantial danger of respiratory cessation and death.”
There was an order in the client’s file that said “do not release any meds.” The order was made by a ranking registered nurse, who was on vacation when the client left.
McPhail, a licensed practical nurse, told officials that she thought the order applied only to a previous incident involving the individual.

Postal workers still fighting for AEDs

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: March 31, 2010 - 10:08 AM

Co-workers of the late Art Tilson at the big mail distribution center in downtown Minneapolis are appealing to Washington for life-saving cardiac devices.

Since Tilson suffered a fatal heart attack on the job last June, his co-workers have urged their supervisors to install automated external defibrillators (AEDs), which they think could have saved his life, Whistleblower reported in January. Workers even identified an organization that offered to donate the units and training.

On Jan. 20, Erica A. Brix, senior plant manager for the Minneapolis Processing and Distribution Center, wrote a letter to a worker safety committee that she had made the decision "not to implement an AED program" because of the estimated 3.5 minute ambulance response time and the plant's existing CPR and first aid program. The cost of putting an estimated 18 AEDs in the facility couldn't be justified by the benefit, she wrote. She quoted an estimate from the "National Medical Director" that startup costs could be $5,000 to $7,000 and annual costs could $3,000 for a facility with just one unit. 

The workers haven't given up. WCCO -TV picked up on the story in a March 8 broadcast. In a March 21 letter to the state’s two senators, postal worker Bruce Johnson, like Tilson a Vietnam veteran, compared the workers’ efforts to get AEDs in their plant to troops in Iraq armoring their own Humvees to protect them from IEDs.

“[P]eople can cut through the red tape for an obvious good,” Johnson wrote, “and resolve life threatening problems.”

Whistleblower will check back with Johnson to see whether the politicians respond.  

Spying on employees has its limits

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: March 4, 2010 - 9:33 AM

From our University of Minnesota student reporter, Jessica Van Berkel:

It was all caught on tape — in May 2009, a municipal liquor store clerk tore a memo off the wall, vented about her boss and told a co-worker to put four cents into the penny tray to balance the till.

But the city of Paynesville went too far when it imposed an eight-hour suspension without pay for Renee Topp, the senior clerk at the municipal liquor store, a state arbitrator ruled last month.

The punishment was decided after the Paynesville city manager, mayor, city council members and the city’s attorney watched surveillance recordings of Topp’s actions. The city ruled that Topp violated policies requiring employees to be “courteous at all times” and to exhibit “conduct that is ethical, responsive, and of high standards becoming of a city employee...” The city described the use of a penny dish as a “slush fund.”

The video recorders were installed to watch for illegal behavior like robbery and underage purchases, and using them to monitor unsuspecting employees was “illegal” and “just plain unfair,” according to the AFSCME Council 65, which brought the case before the Bureau of Mediation Services in December. The union also argued the punishment was too severe.

But administrators in Paynesville, a city of about 2,200 people located northwest of the Twin Cities, said the restriction of recordings does not apply to municipal government, and Topp “should not have expected that conversations would be private in a public environment,” according to the bureau’s report. The city said that even if the recordings were improperly obtained, the punishment should remain because Topp admitted to the conduct.

In February, BMS Arbitrator Eugene Jensen issued his ruling that the surveillance was unfair, and the suspension should be replaced with a written reprimand. Topp said she will be receiving the pay from the suspension in her next paycheck.

How far should employers be allowed to go to keep an eye on employees? Do employees have any right to privacy in the workplace?

Group e-mail meant no job, no privacy

Posted by: Updated: February 18, 2010 - 1:26 PM

Over the past year, hundreds of you have asked Whistleblower for help. While we can’t investigate each tip, we want to share more of what you tell us. In 2009, we started publishing a few tips each week to stimulate online discussion and create ways for our readers to help each other. Unlike our news stories, we have not verified this information. If you have a tip, send it to

It’s always disappointing to discover you lost out on a job, but one Whistleblower tipster was outraged when a state agency gave him the bad news via an e-mail sent to all the hopefuls.

“As you can see, my privacy was violated by the highly unprofessional use of a group e-mail with all the unsuccessful applicants’ identities in the address line,” he wrote to Whistleblower.

The tipster accused the state agency of violating a law that says the “names of applicants shall be private data” except when a person wins the job or is picked as a finalist. In a subsequent e-mail, the agency apologized for its “breach of protocol,” but the applicant doesn’t think that’s good enough.

"The error was the lack of professionalism by using a group e-mail to inform candidates for this high level executive position state job," he wrote.

Has a prospective employer ever spilled the beans about your application?


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