California Sheathes Probe Into Employee Personal Activities
Inquiry’s Scope Significantly Narrowed with Apology for “Any Misunderstandings”
Washington, DC — 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