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You now can bar ‘friends’ from discipline inquiries

by on
in Employment Law,Human Resources

Issue: When you interview employees about potential misconduct, can they bring a co-worker to the meeting?

Benefit: A federal labor panel (reversing its prior ruling) says only unionized employees have that right.

Action: Revise your policy if it allows employees to "bring a friend" to such meetings. But never retaliate against an employee for asking.

If your business is a nonunion workplace, your employees no longer can insist on bringing a co-worker along to investigatory meetings that could lead to discipline. You can now deny such employee requests, thanks to a new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling, the board's fourth flip-flop on this issue in the past 23 years.

Background: In 2000, the NLRB greatly expanded employee rights by ruling that even nonunion employees were allowed to bring co-workers to investigatory meetings if the employees believed the meeting could lead to discipline.

The NLRB reversed itself, saying nonunion employees don't have such Weingarten rights (named after the 1975 court case that established the rule). It said organizations should be allowed to conduct confidential investigations of harassment, discrimination, violence and security concerns. (IBM Corp., 341 NLRB No. 148, June 9, 2004) Employees at unionized businesses still retain their Weingarten rights.

Note: The NLRB says your organization can't discipline employees or retaliate against them for simply asking to bring a friend to the meeting.

Outlook: This may not be the end of the ping-pong policy. Because the NLRB's five members are appointed by the president and serve limited terms, the policy could flip again if John Kerry wins this fall.

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