The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

California State Workers Probed on Personal Activities

Cal-OSHA Employees Ordered to Disclose All Outside "Presentations" and Materials


All professional staff inside the California Division of
Occupational Safety and Health are directed, under pain of discipline,
to report any outside "teaching, presentations and training" performed
while working for DOSH including uncompensated volunteer work,
according to documents released today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This extraordinarily intrusive
"internal investigation" also requires Cal-OSHA employees to surrender
from their "home computers or other personal electronic devices" any
related documents and materials.

By March 15, 2010, all
employees must "under penalty of perjury" answer a questionnaire
detailing every non-work presentation they have conducted, regardless
of whether it had anything to do with Cal-OSHA or was done as a
volunteer Sunday school teacher, Little League coach or CPR instructor.
In an Orwellian memo of March 1, 2010, the agency lead investigator
directs employees to "be overly inclusive; do not make any assumptions
about the scope of the information we require." Workers are being
explicitly advised that the inquiry in fact covers religious, political
or union organizing activities and even military reserve training.

February 24, 2010 all-staff memo claims this investigation was prompted
by a state audit that found a former Cal-OSHA employee who "taught and
delivered presentations concerning occupational safety and health for
pay and other compensation while working for the Division as a
full-time employee." Although that employee resigned after he was
caught, Department of Industrial Relations Director John Duncan (DIR is
Cal-OSHA's parent agency) decided to "broaden" the inquiry.

is supposed to be broke but this department somehow has the money and
time for this nonsense," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who
today sent DIR Director Duncan a protest letter. "Talk about adding
insult to injury; first these workers are subjected to unpaid forced
furloughs and then they are investigated for what they are doing off
the job."

PEER argues that this overly broad inquiry serves no
useful purpose. Agency employees already must file conflict of interest
forms disclosing any source of income related to official duties.
Moreover, DIR may not take disciplinary action against employees for
events which occurred more than three years ago. Yet, the DIR "audit"
goes back to the start of employment, a period as long as decades ago
for senior workers.

More fundamentally, the PEER protest letter
contends that the inquiry violates workers' constitutionally guaranteed
right to privacy. In addition, the California Labor Code, which DIR is
supposed to enforce, provides that all workers, including state
employees, shall not be intimidated or held to answer for political
affiliations or activities. Similarly, union activities would also be
included in what workers now must report in detail, together with all
relevant documents, to DIR management.

"In California, all
workers enjoy a constitutional right to privacy which means that a
government agency has no business probing your personal life," Ruch
added. PEER is calling for an immediate halt to the inquiry. "Heaven
help us if this exemplifies the philosophy the Department of Industrial
Relations brings to workplaces in the Golden State."

See the questions that Cal-OSHA employees must answer

Read the PEER letter of protest

View the sweeping DOSH memos ordering cooperation

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.