The Legal Danger with Employee Involvement

By Milite, George | Supervisory Management, January 1994 | Go to article overview

The Legal Danger with Employee Involvement


Milite, George, Supervisory Management


Suppose your company issues a new attendance policy and everyone's unhappy with it.

A number of the workers sign a petition letting management know of their displeasure, and management comes back with an offer: Why not form employee "action committees" to help find solutions to policy issues?

The company sets up several groups and provides guidelines for how they should be run. Each group consists of employees who have volunteered, plus a management representative. The company also allows the groups to meet on company time (volunteers get paid for the time they spend on the committees) and supplies meeting space and necessary materials to the groups.

What a great idea, you say. Not so fast. This is exactly what Electromation, Inc. did--until the National Labor Relations Board ruled the company's employee involvement program was really an employer-dominated labor organization. Does this mean that any employee involvement program can be held suspect by the NLRB? Not exactly--but there are definite red flags to watch for.

TOO MUCH INFLUENCE?

Labor lawyer Michael J. Hanlon, writing in the June issue of AMA's Industry Forum, explains that the NLRB's view, though seemingly narrow, comes from a genuine concern that employees must be free of management influence or pressure when they meet in discussion groups. When the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935, its message, says Hanlon, was clearly that "genuine collective bargaining is the only way to obtain equality of bargaining power" between employers and employees. If the employer has too much influence over the employee groups, warns the NLRB, the groups can't be effective because they fear retaliation if they go against what management wants. …

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