KNOWING MATTERS - JIMMY SMITH
Just Stop and Ask Yourself…?
We would like to help, but we can’t if we are not aware. I have received several phone calls and have had many kitchen table conversations regarding “possible disciplinary issues” lately. These conversations are not only very welcome, they almost always draw in others to a very productive discussion. If you have had the pleasure of sitting in on one of these disciplinary conversations you may already know one very important fact. I never use names!! That may be very frustrating to some of you, however please understand that the trust and confidence of our members is the most important thing we hold.
I wanted to use this 5th issue of the Kitchen Table to review and remind you all of what to do if something as it may relate to discipline doesn’t “pass the smell test”. (Yes, that is a legal term.)
Here are a few examples of what you should be thinking if you find yourself in this position.
Let’s say you get asked a question that sounds like it’s related to discipline.
Ask a simple question: “Is this an issue that could possibly lead to disciplinary action or prosecution?” If the answer is “yes” (or “maybe”, “possibly”, “I don’t know”, “probably not”, “we don’t have to go there, do we?”, etc.), stop the conversation and invoke your right to representation before answering any questions.
What if I am ordered to answer questions without representation?
Get a tape recorder, or insist that one be provided, and read the following statement: “I am making this statement involuntarily, in compliance with a direct order made under penalty of sanction and/or termination. In compelling my statement without representation, you are in violation of the California Government Code, Sections 3250 through 3262, and are subject to civil penalties prescribed by law. I do not waive any of my rights under this law, our current union contract, any other local, state or federal law, or my right to remain silent under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.”
What if they tell me that I’m not being investigated, but someone else is?
Management can compel your testimony against another employee, but only if they confirm, on the record, that the questions will not result in discipline against you. In most cases, you are still entitled to representation, since the very fact that you’re being questioned could put you at risk of discipline if your answers are deemed untruthful. Best practice: get your rep on the phone, and find a tape recorder.
Can they just start fishing around and asking me questions without telling me what it’s about?
No. Before any questioning, the employer must tell you the nature of any investigation, the specific charges for which you are being investigated and the name(s) of those who are conducting the investigation.
What if I do something wrong while I’m off duty?
The Firefighters Bill of Rights is not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. If you are charged with unlawful conduct off-duty, the law doesn’t shield you from discipline. However, its protections do help guard against being sanctioned multiple times for the same offense.
For two decades, California Professional Firefighters has worked to bring firefighters the same fundamental employee rights afforded to peace officers. In 2007, firefighters won the fight with passage of CPF’s AB 220 – The Firefighters Procedural Bill of Rights. All of this information can be found on our CPF website www.cpf.org under “Knowing Your Rights.” Additionally, the union hall and all stations should have FOBAR printed information. Your union is here to assist with any questions. Please pick up the phone and reach out!!