Investigatory Interviews: Don’t Let the Boss Intimidate You!

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Weingarten rights” entitle union-represented employees to request the presence of a Union Steward during any interview that an employee reasonably believes could lead to discipline. This right was established by a 1975 U.S. Supreme Court case, NLRB v. J. Weingarten, Inc., which the California Supreme Court has extended to public employees.

Usually, your boss will not tell you about these rights. If you want a Steward to accompany you to a meeting with management, you must make the request yourself. If you aren’t sure what the purpose of a meeting is, ask your boss if the meeting could result in discipline. This recently happened to Howard Gustafson, a Construction Inspector, when he received a letter from management informing him that he would be the subject of an investigation. Howard immediately requested union representation.

At the investigatory interview, the management lawyer questioning Howard claimed that his union representative had no right to speak. When a boss uses intimidation tactics to relegate a steward to the role of passive observer, that boss is breaking the law! Stewards have the absolute right “to take an active role in assisting the employee to present the facts.” NLRB v. Texaco (1981). SEIU 521 trains our stewards to help union members assert their rights.

Another common problem we have seen are bosses denying a request for union representation by claiming that a meeting will not result in discipline. According to a 2004 decision by the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB Decision No. 1648), if a boss denies an employee’s request for union representation by promising that the meeting will not lead to discipline, that employee cannot be disciplined for anything said in the meeting. If this happens to you, we recommend sending an e-mail to your supervisor to document his or her statement in writing.

Since every situation is different, we always recommend that you consult your steward or our Contract Enforcement Department if you have questions. But the basic rule is you are responsible for exercising your Weingarten rights. If we don’t use them, we lose them.

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