California whistleblower complaints not investigated properly

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Will Evans – September 4, 2012

State labor officials routinely fail to properly investigate whistleblower complaints of retaliation in the workplace, according to a federal review.

A harsh evaluation by the U.S. Department of Labor found that state investigators lack basic training and often fail to perform standard required tasks such as interviewing witnesses. The review (pdf) examined the work of the state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, which investigates complaints from workers who say they were punished for reporting labor or safety violations.

In more than half of the cases reviewed in the audit, investigators did not interview the person who submitted the whistleblower complaint. Investigators frequently didn't interview other witnesses either and sometimes simply accepted a company's defense.

"The investigators' failure to conduct these interviews left many key questions unanswered and resulted in inadequate investigations and analysis," the report states.

The California Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, has asked for additional time to respond to the federal evaluation, and until it does, "we're not going to have any statement," said spokeswoman Erika Monterroza. "Until that time, it's under review."

The federal monitoring report examined 10 percent of the 210 whistleblower retaliation cases closed in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

The review, released Aug. 24, faulted investigators for failing to record interviews, analyze evidence, organize case files and close cases in time. None of the state's five investigators had attended the federal government's Basic Whistleblower Investigations course, it said.

Original article on Sacramento Bee website