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San Jose State Investigated Over Forced Office Work

Paul Steinbach

Santa Clara County has launched an investigation into a complaint alleging San Jose State athletic department employees are being forced to work in the office during the pandemic, county executive Dr. Jeffrey Smith told the Bay Area News Group on Thursday.

“At this point, we need to find out what is going on,” said Smith, adding that enforcement officers planned to visit the campus.

It marks the third time the school athletic department has come under scrutiny for its approach to county directives intended to help stop the transmission of COVID-19.

San Jose State officials said in a statement Thursday evening that they were unaware of a current investigation. The statement added that school officials contacted the Santa Clara County Code Enforcement division after Bay Area News Group's inquiry to address the questions.

“Athletics operations follow all safety precautions as outlined in Santa Clara County and state of California COVID-19 related directives and guidelines applicable to intercollegiate athletics and higher education,” the SJSU statement read.

San Jose State athletics administrators and staff returned to their offices on Monday although the university issued two recent notices that four cases of COVID-19 involved individuals who had visited the school’s sports department buildings.

A San Jose State spokesman did not say how many of the department’s 140 employees had been asked to return to their campus offices. But in a Jan. 9 email seen by this news organization, athletic director Marie Tuite wrote the return date for “all staff” was Feb. 1.

In an email dated Jan. 30, Tuite reminded department employees to complete a COVID-19 return-to-work document.

The Santa Clara County Health Department has required county businesses to maximize remote work.

“The general direction is if you can work from home you should work from home,” Smith said. “Nobody should be forced to come into work.”

San Jose State athletic administrators previously have been at odds with county public health guidelines.

In October, county officials criticized the school when it relocated the football team to Humboldt State for a week and a half to prepare for the season opener. At the time, county officials did not permit contact sports.

In December, the team returned from Las Vegas to San Jose for a week before departing to Tucson to play in the Arizona Bowl. At the time, the county had issued a 10-day quarantine for anyone traveling to the area from beyond 150 miles, leading to criticism from Smith. The Spartans ended up with 13 confirmed coronavirus cases after they returned from Las Vegas.

“Obviously with the first two times, there was frustration,” Smith said. “We thought we had things worked out. I hope the complaints being investigated are found to be untrue. But if they are proven, we’ll go through another problem.”

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