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Joseph, Lawyer
Category: California Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 5299
Experience:  Extensive experience representing employees and management
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In a California fire department the second in command seeks

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In a California fire department the second in command seeks a vote of "no confidence" against the fire chief. He (and his son who is an employee of the same dept) solicit support from lower level employees. When someone says "no" the response has been "you are not a team player' "be careful how this affects your future" etc. Is this legal? If not, under what law can I proceed?
Hello and welcome to JustAnswer.

I'm sorry to hear about your situation and hope I can help.

My goal is to provide you with excellent service today.

Are there threats being made that people will actually lose their jobs if they don't vote 'no confidence,' or is it more vague as you've laid out regarding people not being 'team players'?
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
The provable responses are as I outlined. No actual threats have been communicated. The senior chief is responsible for discipline actions but his son is doing the dirty work. The complaints are that father and son are sort of one and the same so employees feel some coercion from the implications.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

did you receive my response to your question?

Hello Michael,

Unfortunately, unless there were threats that firefighters would lose their jobs if they failed to vote 'no confidence,' the actions by the senior chief and his son are not illegal. However, their occurrence would certainly question the validity of the 'no confidence' vote and can definitely be used if the no confidence vote is used to try to remove you as fire chief.

California Government Code Section 3254 (see section (c) below) does provide limited protections to fire chiefs and also gives them a right to receive written notice for why they are being removed and a right to file an administrative appeal.

If the public agency or appointing authority were to try to remove you on this 'no confidence' vote then you can bring up (through witness statements, interviews, etc.) that the employees were told that they wouldn't be considered team players if they didn't vote in favor of the 'no confidence' vote and were also told to worry about their futures if they didn't vote.

While these coercive tactics are not illegal themselves, the knowledge that they occurred would question the validity of a 'no confidence' vote and can be used at the appeal stage if the public agency or appointing authority were to try to base a removal of the chief on these grounds.

Since my goal is to provide you with the best service today, please do not hesitate to ask me any clarifying questions or to request any additional information.

If not, please remember to rate my answer positively so I get credit for my work!

Thanks and best of luck!

California Government Code Section 3254 below, for context see here:

(a) A firefighter shall not be subjected to punitive action,
or denied promotion, or be threatened with that treatment, because of
the lawful exercise of the rights granted under this chapter, or the
exercise of any rights under any existing administrative grievance
(b) Punitive action or denial of promotion on grounds other than
merit shall not be undertaken by any employing department or
licensing or certifying agency against any firefighter who has
successfully completed the probationary period without providing the
firefighter with an opportunity for administrative appeal.
(c) A fire chief shall not be removed by a public agency or
appointing authority without providing that person with written
notice, the reason or reasons for removal, and an opportunity for
administrative appeal.
For purposes of this subdivision, the removal of a fire chief by a
public agency or appointing authority, for the purpose of
implementing the goals or policies, or both, of the public agency or
appointing authority, or for reasons including, but not limited to,
incompatibility of management styles or as a result of a change in
administration, shall be sufficient to constitute "reason or reasons."
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

How far can a senior officer go in pushing lower level firefighters to sign? If they say no shouldn't he have to terminate the issue with that person? Can he persist in pushing the issue by making the types of comments I outlined?

Unfortunately, there is nothing in the Government Code (or case law) that specifically outlines how far a senior officer can go (or cannot go) in pushing lower level firefighters to sign.

However, the results of the election itself can easily be called into question if lower level firefighters were pressured into signing when they initially refused. I also agree that they should have to completely terminate that issue with the employee at the time and should not be allowed to persist in pushing the issue.

However, this type of solicitation to support votes is hard to govern, and is one of the reasons why the law doesn't supply any specific protection in this regards, XXXXX XXXXX sometimes difficult to distinguish between zealous campaigning and coercion.

Since this is a petition to force a 'no confidence' and not that vote itself, there are even lesser restrictions on it.

For instances, such forms of aggressive tactics are normally used by unions when they are soliciting signatures for union endorsement in union elections. would be hard for the government to step in and prevent appeals to self-interest, group identity, etc. in all types of elections.

I realize that I have less than favorable news to give you , and I sincerely XXXXX XXXXX had better news to give you, but I hope you appreciate a direct and honest answer, and realize that it would be unprofessional of me to provide you with anything less.

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