Q. One of our newest hires just told me one of our employees, a longtime troublemaker, invited him to an "informational meeting" at his home. Apparently this man is working with a union organizer and wants our warehouse and field workers to join a union.
I want to investigate and find out which employees this man has contacted and if he's done this during work hours. I've called an attorney who told me to do nothing; however, the attorney isn't available for a consultation for a week and I don't want to sit by and do nothing.
It's my workplace and I need to protect it from damage. If this employee has been contacting my employees during working hours, can't I immediately fire him for non-work activities during working hours?
A. Although it's your workplace, it's also your employees' workplace. Employees have an absolute right to discuss wages, hours and working conditions without their employers disciplining, discriminating or harassing them. Further, they're allowed to explore the potential benefits of unionization.
Once a union-organizing campaign begins, employers can't take actions that intimidate employees from exploring potential unionization offers and benefits. Employers who do so may find their companies on the losing side of a National Labor Relations Act unfair labor practice lawsuit.
That said, if you don't want your company unionized, you need to immediately implement a well-thought-out strategy for convincing your employees they would be better served by retaining the non-union status quo.
Here's what you can do:
• You can restrict union activity during working hours.
• You can tell employees you're always willing to discuss any subject with them.
• You can tell employees you prefer to deal with them individually and professionally rather than through outsiders.
• You can tell employees how their wages, benefits and working conditions compare with those in similar companies.
• You can let employees know the disadvantages of belonging to a union, such as union dues, union fines and the potential loss of income due to strikes. You can tell employees the amount of union dues and initiation fees in your area. You can tell employees they don't need to join a union and pay dues or initiation fees to work in your company.
• You can tell employees that federal law permits you to hire permanent replacement workers for anyone who goes out on a union strike.
• You can tell employees they don't have to talk with union organizers at their homes or anywhere else.
• You can interview your supervisors to learn the issues that might prompt your employees to vote for a union.
• Finally, you can fire at-will employees for any reason as long as the firing isn't based on union membership or activity or other protected concerted activity.
Here's what you can't do:
• You can't promise employees benefits if they vote against the union.
• You can't threaten or discriminate against employees who sympathize with the union or suggest that unionization may lead to strikes or the loss of benefits or jobs.
• You can't retaliate against employees suspected of union organizing in an effort to keep your company union-free.
• Although you can interview front-line supervisors to find out what they see as employee issues, you can't solicit employees to tell you the grievances that prompt their interest in the union or promise to remedy those situations.
• You can't tell employees not to engage in union activities during break, meal periods or other non-working hours.
• You can't interrogate employees about their union sympathies or activities.
• You can't tell employees not to wear union insignia, pins or buttons.
• You can't prohibit distribution of union literature on non-work hours or in non-work areas.
• You can't base hiring decisions on an applicant's past or present union activities or alter any employee's working conditions because of the employee's participation or non-participation in union activities.
In other words, don't react to your troublemaker. Instead, act. If you pay your employees fairly and have good relationships with them, you may have less to worry about than you fear.
Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com.