E-mail 'Rant' Costs Job; No Whistleblower Shield

A jaw-dropping e-mail reportedly sent to all employees at Kaiser Permanente last fall by an unauthorized 22-year-old worker shows that so-called company whistleblower rules intended to protect those who bring corporate wrongdoing to public attention only go so far. At the same time, though, it also demonstrates, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, that “flicking away whistle-blowers isn’t as easy as it once was” for employers in today’s electronic age.

Expecting protection, Justen Deal took time from his $56,000-a-year job working on patient education materials and providing technical support to shoot a 2,000-word Friday afternoon e-mail to all employees. It contended that a $4 billion project to convert hard-copy patient files to electronic records was a mess and could be jeopardizing lives, according to the Wall Street Journal. Deal says he thought the e-mail was permissible under a Kaiser policy that, the paper reports, was “intended to encourage people to report ethical or patient-safety problems.”

But he was put on leave and eventually fired in January – not because of the e-mail, according to a company spokesperson, but “rather because he violated numerous company policies, including making an unauthorized order for three Apple laptops that he converted to his own use.” Deal says the computer order was approved by Kaiser superiors.

In addition to its content, Deal’s e-mail diatribe, described by the newspaper as a “rant,” also was noteworthy for its address list – although he wasn’t authorized to utilize a “send all” button, Deal reportedly cobbled together an all-staff list on his computer, using inexpensive software.

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