Welcome to the World of a Whistleblower

Randy Robarge, a nuclear power plant supervisor, never intended to be a whistleblower. To Robarge, raising concerns about the improper storage of radioactive material at Commonwealth Edison’s Zion power plant on Lake Michigan was just part of doing a good job. The 20-year veteran was so respected when it came to safety issues that Commonwealth Edison used him to narrate the company’s training video on safety, which is still used throughout the industry. So he never expected that speaking up would end his career. At first the harassment was subtle. He says he was routinely denied days off and asked to cover for employees who were out. Co-workers kept their distance, and supervisors began criticizing his work. Three months later Robarge was out of a job. Over the next two years a federal investigation would prove that Zion’s radiation containment procedures – the ones Robarge had complained about – were lax, and the plant was eventually shut down. The Department of Labor also ordered the company to pay Robarge a small settlement for his improper treatment. In the eyes of the court, Robarge was vindicated. But six years after speaking up and hundreds of job applications later, Robarge still can’t get a job in his industry. “It’s a living hell,” says Robarge, 49, who supports himself with savings and odd jobs. “This is my livelihood, what I love to do. But I’m off limits. No one wants to touch me. I was labeled as a whistleblower.” Unfortunately, Robarge is not alone. About half of all whistleblowers get fired, half of those fired will lose their homes, and most of those will then lose their families too, says C. Fred Alford, author of Whistleblowers: Broken Lives and Organizational Power. For every Sherron Watkins, who became a hero after she blew the whistle on Enron’s shady financial deal making, there are about 200 whistleblowers that people never hear about who fare poorly. Overall, 90 percent of whistleblowers can expect some kind of reprisal-public humiliation, isolation, career freezing, firing, blacklisting-from their company. Since co-workers and even friends rarely rally behind whistleblowers, feelings of isolation and betrayal run high. “It is lonely,” says Michael Lissack, the former Smith Barney banker who became a whistleblower celebrity after exposing a municipal finance scam on Wall Street. “My wife said, ‘Thank you for ruining both our lives,’ and walked out the door.” There is even an annual retreat for whistleblowers headed by a psychologist, to help them deal with the stress and repercussions of speaking up.
Source: Adapted from Daniels, C. (2002, April 15). It’s a living hell: Whistleblowing makes for great TV. But the aftereffects can be brutal. Fortune, 367-368.

Gómez-Mejia, Luis R., Balkin, David B., and Cardy, Robert L., (2008), Managing Human Resources, Fourth Edition, Pearson Education, Inc., pp. 535-536.