OSHA Plans to Fire Employee Put on Paid Leave Since Mid-2007

By Joe Davidson
Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Remember Bob Whitmore?

A couple of months ago, we wrote about the 37-year Labor Department employee who has been on paid administrative leave for almost two years. Whitmore was sent home a few days after a July 10, 2007, confrontation with his supervisor, but he has continued to collect his $150,000 annual salary for doing nothing.

Finally, officials in the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration are moving to end the limbo. They plan to fire him. The reasons are detailed in a 19-page memo sent to Whitmore. An investigation by an outside contractor revealed, the memo said, "a longstanding pattern of inappropriate conduct on your part that caused many employees to fear for their safety."

Rather than fretting over the end of his paid leave, Whitmore welcomes the opportunity to contest the charges against him. "My main goal is to get back to work and do my job," he said. "This forces them to prove there is a reason they stuck me out here for all this time other than political motives."

Whitmore and his attorney say the motives for his proposed dismissal are connected to his complaints that OSHA was too cozy with corporate officials who, he said, were allowed to underreport worker injuries.

Nothing in the memo explains why officials allowed the case to remain unresolved for so long, why they allowed taxpayers to pay a senior civil servant to do zip month after month after month, why they seem to have disregarded notions of fairness to the employee, who was only now given details of the accusations and had just seven days to reply.

This is not to say the charges against Whitmore are bogus. But guilty or not, he, federal employees generally and those who pay their salaries have a right to expect a process that advances in a sensible time frame, not one that takes 21 months to furnish workers with details of the accusations leveled against them.

Department policy calls for administrative leave to be "reasonable and brief." Obviously, the "brief" part has been violated, and there is nothing in the memo to indicate it has been "reasonable."

"There's nothing new in there, so why did they wait?" Whitmore asked in an interview.

Good question. But Labor Department officials aren't answering. Confidentiality rules prevent them from discussing individual personnel cases.

The memo from Steven F. Witt, director of cooperative and state programs, cites three reasons for Whitmore's "proposed removal" -- disruptive and intimidating behavior, conduct unbecoming a supervisor and inappropriate conduct in the workplace.

After those charges are detailed, eight pages of the memo contain various complaints about Whitmore's "disrespectful and unprofessional behavior" that led some co-workers to "avoid any contact with you in fear of an unpleasant or violent encounter."

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