Whether a company has a relationship with a union, wants to avoid having a union organize its workforce, or believes that it is not a target for any union, all companies have obligations regarding how they act in relation to the collective actions of their employees. Even when a company might never consider that union rights are implicated – such as where a non-union employee complains about wages or the company wants to implement a social media policy – an employer may face liability for infringing on an employee’s legally-protected actions.
Employers often seek to avoid their employees becoming unionized. If this is a company’s preference, the company needs to prepare itself prior to the initiation of any organizing activities by a union. In many instances, by the time a company is aware that it is a target of organizing efforts, it is too late. Companies need to set up and maintain policies and practices that make unions less appealing to their employees. In addition, the company’s position on unions and why they are not needed should be effectively communicated to employees well before any union tries to organize the workers. If a company is in the middle of a union organizing campaign, it needs to be careful in how it proceeds prior to an election, as there are even more restrictions placed on the employer’s activities during this time.
Managing Union Relations
Companies that have a union relationship need to manage that relationship. It is important to carefully negotiate collective bargaining agreements and related issues, as well as to memorialize these negotiations in clear writings. This helps to avoid controversy about what the parties intended down the road. Companies must also be careful to not inadvertently sacrifice their discretion to act on matters which are important to running their business. This can occur if a company has poorly written agreements or if it does not take the right actions in its daily dealings with the union.
Obligations of non-union employers
Federal labor laws do not only apply to companies that are unionized or who are subjects of union-organizing campaigns. The activities of non-union employers still fall under the restrictions imposed by these laws. Employer actions such as improperly written handbook policies and termination decisions based on impermissible policies or considerations can subject companies to liability under these laws.