If this discussion could in any way lead to my being disciplined or terminated, or affect my personal working condition, I respectfully request that my union representative, officer, or steward be present at the meeting. Without representation, I choose not to answer any questions.”
Any employee has the right to union representation when management questions an employee to obtain information and the employee has a reasonable belief that discipline or other adverse consequence may result from what he or she says. Your Union strongly suggests that you exercise this right.
In 1975, in NLRB v. J. Weingarten, Inc, the U.S. Supreme Court announced the rights of employees in the presence of union representatives during investigatory interviews. Since that case involved a clerk being investigated by the Weingarten Company, these rights have become known as Weingarten rights.
One of the most vital functions of a Union steward is to prevent management from intimidating employees. Nowhere is this more important than in closed-door meetings when supervisors or guards, often trained in interrogation techniques, attempt to coerce employees into confessing to wrongdoing.
Shop Stewards should encourage workers to assert their Weingarten rights. The presence of a steward can help in many ways.
- The steward can help a fearful or inarticulate employee explain what happened.
- The steward can raise extenuating factors.
- The steward can advise an employee against blindly denying everything, thereby giving the appearance of dishonesty and guilt.
- The steward can help prevent an employee from making fatal admissions.
- The steward can stop an employee from losing his or her temper, and perhaps getting fired for insubordination.
- The steward can serve as a witness to prevent supervisors from giving a false account of the conversation.
Note: the NLRB generally does not defer charges alleging a violation of Weingarten rights. Nor are violations considered de minimus even if no employee is disciplined.
Investigatory Interviews usually relate to subjects such as:
- Damage to company property
- Falsification of records
- Poor attitude
- Violation of safety rules
- Work performance
Under the Supreme Court’s Weingarten decision, when an investigatory interview occurs, the following rules apply:
The employee must make a clear request for union representation before or during the interview. The employee cannot be punished for making this request.
- Grant the request and delay questioning until the union representative arrives and has a chance to consult privately with the employee; or
- Deny the request and end the interview immediately; or
- Give the employee a choice of (1) having the interview without representation or (2) ending the interview.
If the employer denies the request for union representation, and continues to ask questions, it commits an unfair labor practice and the employee has a right to refuse to answer. The employer may not discipline the employee for such a refusal. If the employer does continue to ask question it is a good practice to repeat you request for a union representation.