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Cal-OSHA Narrows Scope of Internal Employee Investigation

The California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) issued a clarification to Cal-OSHA employees regarding the controversial questionnaire sent out as part of an internal investigation, stating that the audit was not designed to obtain personal information about employees.

As part of its investigation into employees’ outside training and presentation activities, DIR instructed Cal-OSHA employees to be “overly inclusive” in the information they provided about any and all of their training, teaching or presentation activities, which could cover personal, religious, political or union organizing activities. Groups such as American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) expressed concerns that this audit violated employees’ privacy and constitutional rights.

In a March 15 memo obtained by EHS Today, DIR Chief Deputy Director David Rowan offered clarification and defined a narrower scope for the audit.

“First of all, I wish to make it absolutely clear that the intent of this inquiry is not to seek information on your purely personal activities,” Rowan wrote. “The sole purpose is to determine whether state resources have been or are being misused.”

Rowan also stressed that answering “yes” to any of the questions does not automatically mean the employee is in violation of DIR policy.

The memo offered the following clarifications regarding the employee questionnaire:

  • Employees may limit their responses to activity that has taken place in the past 3 years rather than throughout their entire tenure;
  • Employees no longer must sign under penalty of perjury and may cross out those words before signing;
  • Employees who answer “no” to the first question concerning whether they conducted teaching, training or presentations need not answer the additional questions; and
  • Employees who answer “yes” to the first question only must continue on to the next questions if they used state resources in the course of preparing for or conducting the activities.

Rowan clarified “state resources” to mean “property that belongs to the State, State paid work time, funds, equipment, supplies, phones, computers, vehicles, or compensation for travel. We do not mean publicly available material free of charge such as free pamphlets or information that might be obtained from a State website or other similar materials.”

The deadline for submitting the questionnaire also was extended from March 15 to March 31.

DIR launched its internal investigation after learning that a former Cal-OSHA employee received compensation for presentations concerning occupational safety and healthy while still working for the department.

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