Whistle While You Work

Whistle While You Work You do have protection of sorts By Stephen P. Prentice July 2001 Whistle: To summon, signal or direct; Whistler: One that whistles. Webster’s Dictionary The threat Have you ever been required to sign off...


Whistle While You Work

You do have protection of sorts

Stephen P. PrenticeBy Stephen P. Prentice

July 2001

Whistle: To summon, signal or direct; Whistler: One that whistles.
Webster’s Dictionary

The threat
Have you ever been required to sign off on work that was not completed in a satisfactory manner? Did you tell the supervisor that you were reluctant to approve work that was not completed to your own satisfaction? Have you been told that you could either sign off on the work or quit and somebody else would sign off the work?
Well, all of the above are actual facts from events that have occurred. Some of the technicians involved have asked for my advice on what to do when their job is threatened. A description of the whistleblower statute follows.
Technicians should always try to cooperate with their supervision to the extent that they can. But, keep in mind that when asked to violate a FAR, you must maintain your integrity and refuse even if your job is threatened.
Maintenance departments have always been under pressure to get more aircraft out the door and to reduce their costs. This is almost axiomatic in the business. It never ends. Some airline management people provide many incentives including cash payments to supervision in order to push aircraft out the hangar door. When FAA inspectors suspect this is the case and they see an incentive program involved in completing inspections, a red warning flag should go up. When maintenance is paid extra for production, FAA inspectors should look carefully at what is going on. Unfortunately, many times it is missed.
Is this a familiar scene in your situation? Are shortcuts taken due to the hustle and frenzy of getting aircraft out onto the line to generate revenue?

A step in the right direction
In an effort to stamp out acceptance of shoddy or non-conforming workmanship, Congress has recently enacted laws to protect people who report such conduct and bring it to the FAA’s attention. The protection consists of preventing an air carrier from discharging an employee who, in simple terms, blows the whistle on activity he concludes is illegal or contrary to Federal Air Regulations. Hence, the Whistleblower Protection Program was incorporated in the law.
If an employee knows that he has recourse when refusing to sign off on shoddy work, he can be confident in maintaining his position when pushed by supervision. The law is designed to provide a defensive weapon for the employee.

The law
Public Law 106-181, commonly called "Air 21" covers a wide range of subjects including the so-called "Hoover Law," which was named for Bob Hoover’s travails with the medical people in Oklahoma City. This section allows a direct appeal to the NTSB from emergency revocation action by the FAA. We discussed this section in detail in a previous article (AMT April 2000). Other subjects include a new criminal penalty for pilots operating in air transportation without an airman’s certificate. We will focus on the whistleblower section at this time, which is described in Subchapter III Section 42122.

What does it all mean?
At first blush, this law appears to be substantial protection for the employee. However, certain aspects of the law should be kept in mind.
In order to address your discrimination, you must file a complaint with the U.S. Labor Department within 90 days of the violation. So, if you get fired for refusing to do something because you feel it would be a violation, you had better get your act together and file a complaint within the time frame or you will lose your opportunity. Keep in mind that you must save and have available, all the evidence necessary to support your case. Make copies of everything in sight before you act, and if possible, get original copies of documents. You must be able to convince a hearing officer that your conduct as a reporting person was a contributing factor in your being discharged or otherwise discriminated against, although it need not be the sole factor that caused your discharge. This is called a prima facie showing in the law. Find a counselor to assist you: Attorney fees are granted in such matters if you prevail.

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