Washington, DC — 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.
A 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.
“California 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.”