'Deplorable' | Lab worker found severed heads on his desk after complaint about work conditions

Lab worker found severed heads on his desk after complaint about work conditions

An employee claims three severed heads were left at his workspace after he raised concerns about ‘deplorable’ working conditions.

Dale Wheatley, a transportation coordinator at the Anatomical Gift Association (AGA) in Illinois, US, allegedly encountered the gruesome sight after complaining about the quality of work being done at the AGA, a non-profit to which people can donate their bodies after death, for the education of medical professionals.

Speaking at a press conference with his attorney Wheatley shed light on the “shabby conditions” he experienced at AGA, describing the workplace as “deplorable”.

“They’re sending donors back because of mould and rot, bugs,” he claimed.

“There's been instances where I've pulled donors from our storing room out of the racks, and rats have chewed through the bottom of the bag, through the feet.

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“Sometimes we do brain removals, and they’re not sewn up correctly.

He continued: “There are people that are in our cooler now that need their body parts back and they have been there for three years or more. Right now at AGA, we have a number of cremains that need to go back to the families, over hundreds of cremains, sitting at our AGA right now.”

Disturbingly, Wheatley claimed that after he reported his concerns to superiors, he came into work one day to find the three severed heads, atop a storage container, left by the side of his desk.

He told the press conference: “My boss walked by, I asked him why the heads were at my desk.

“He said they need to get back with their bodies so we can send them to cremation. I said: ‘I understand that. Why are they at my desk?’ and he said: ‘I don't know Dale, there's a lot of strange things happening.’”

Several media outlets have shared heavily-pixelated images, taken by Wheatley, which indeed appear to show the body parts at his desk.

Wheatley believes what happened was in response to his complaints, and has filed reports with state authorities.

AGA has so far not responded to media outlets’ request for comments.

HR teams advised to promote whistleblowing policies more to build employee engagement and trust in processes

At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s unlikely many HR leaders will have to consider the risk of employees leaving human remains at a colleague’s desk in retaliation for a workplace incident.

However, the core issue is one that every people leader has to reckon with – ensuring employees are comfortable in raising concerns about working conditions or co-workers’ conduct, without the fear of repercussions.

Indeed, HR managers and directors are being encouraged to review their whistleblowing processes in the light of new research revealing a low awareness and trust among employees.

A new survey highlights that a majority of HR professionals (57%) in private and public sector believe their employees are actively encouraged to speak up about wrongdoing. With an additional 36% who state that employees are ‘aware’ they can report wrongdoing.

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However, a good proportion of employees are not aware of what to do if they witness or discover wrongdoing in the workplace.

The findings reveal there seems to be low investment in the training and promotion of whistleblowing processes and policies even among those organisations that have such things.

The whistleblowing survey, conducted by an independent third party, was commissioned by UK-based Safecall – an independent, specialist whistleblowing and compliance services provider.

The majority of respondents - some 83% - have a whistleblowing policy in place, although 17% do not. While there is no legal requirement for an organisation to have a whistleblowing policy, under the Corporate Governance Code, if a listed company does not have one in place, then senior management must be able to explain why they don’t have one.

On a positive note, HR managers are overwhelmingly aware of the EU Whistleblowing Directive, although a minority – just over 20% - said they were not aware of the Directive and therefore the possible impact on their business.

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This suggests that nearly two years of awareness activity by both public and private sectors has largely worked.

Joanna Lewis, MD at Safecall, said: “Awareness and adoption of whistleblowing processes and policies seem fairly high, which is great to see. However, it’s when you start delving into the mechanics and trust of such processes that we see some worrying trends.

“There are organisations that have put whistleblowing reporting systems in place but are not bought into actively encouraging reports. A minority of organisations – even if they do have whistleblowing reporting channels in place – see whistleblowing as a tick-box exercise with no benefits to the revenue, morale or profit of the organisation.”

The findings show a large minority of organisations - some 43.5% - are not bought into, or at worst, completely unaware of the benefits of actively promoting whistleblowing.

Lewis said: “While progress is being made, more needs to be done to persuade some HR management teams that whistleblowing has multiple lasting benefits to both themselves and their organisation.”

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