California Sheathes Probe into Employee Personal Activities

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

California Sheathes Probe into Employee Personal Activities

Inquiry’s Scope Significantly Narrowed with Apology for “Any Misunderstandings”

WASHINGTON - Bowing to protests, the California Department of Industrial
Relations abruptly reversed course and reined in a wide-ranging inquiry
into any outside "teaching, presentations and training," according to a
memo posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
(PEER). The original probe covered everything from Little League to
training in the military reserve.

The controversial "internal
investigation" announced earlier this month had demanded that workers
in the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA)
answer questions under penalty of perjury about volunteer and private
activity completely unrelated to work. Workers were also ordered to
surrender all relevant records from their "home computers or other
personal electronic devices."

In a March 15, 2010 memo to all employees, David Rowan, Chief Deputy Director of DIR, backtracked, assuring employees that -

  • Questions
    are limited to use of state resources in preparing outside
    presentations. This slashes the scope of the investigation back to
    activities already covered by current regulations;
  • Employees
    do not need to discuss anything that took place prior to three years
    ago - the statute of limitations for disciplinary action against
    employees. The original request dated back to the onset of employment
    at Cal-OSHA which, for senior employees, was a period of decades; and
  • Employees
    "need not sign under penalty of perjury, and may line out those words
    before you sign". However, Rowan said workers are "expected to answer
    truthfully whether you sign under penalty of perjury or not."

The
memo concluded with an expression of "regret for any misunderstandings
that may have been caused by the phrasing of the questions."

"To
quote Saturday Night Live's Emily Litella, ‘Never mind,'" remarked PEER
Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who had sent the DIR Director Duncan a
protest letter spelling out both constitutional and legal problems with
the original investigation. "While we are glad that the department
recognized the lunacy of its original approach, the managers
responsible for this kerfuffle should be taken to task."

In
addition to the opposition from PEER, the employee union, Professional
Engineers in California Government, and the American Civil Liberties
Union weighed in urging that the investigation be dropped altogether or
dramatically scaled back.

"It is nice to see that a ray of
rationality can occasionally penetrate the layers of upper agency
management," Ruch concluded.

 

Read the new memo narrowing the audit

See the original probe and the PEER protest

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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