Weingarten rights guarantee an employee the right to Union representation during an investigatory interview. These rights, established by the Supreme Court, in 1975 in the case of J’. Weingarten Inc,, must be claimed by the employee. The supervisor has no obligation to inform an employee that s/he is entitled to Union representation.
What is an Investigatory Interview?
An investigatory interview is one in which a Supervisor questions an employee to obtain information which could be used as a basis for discipline or asks an employee to defend his/her conduct. If an employee has a reasonable belief that discipline or discharge may result from what s/he says, the employee has the right to request Union representation.
Examples of such an interview are:
- The interview is part of the employer’s disciplinary procedure or is a component of the employer’s procedure for determining whether discipline will be imposed.
- The purpose of the interview is to investigate an employee’s performance where discipline, demotion or other adverse consequences to the employee’s job status or working conditions are a possible result.
- The purpose of the interview is to elicit facts from the employee to support disciplinary action that is probable or that is being considered, or to obtain admissions of misconduct or other evidence to support a disciplinary decision already made.
- The employee is required to explain his/her conduct, or defend it during the interview, or is compelled to answer questions or give evidence.
It is an obligation of the Union to educate bargaining unit employees about their Weingarten rights BEFORE an occasion to use them arises. An employee must state to the employer that he/she wants a Union representative present; the employer has no obligation to ask: the employee if she/he wants a representative.
When an investigatory interview occurs, the following rules apply:
Rule 1 – The employee must make a clear request for Union representation before or during the interview. The employee can’t be punished for making this request.
Rule 2 – After the employee makes the request, the supervisor has 3 options. S/he must either:
- Grant the request and delay the interview 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
Rule 3 – If the supervisor denies the request and continues to ask questions, this is an unfair labor practice and the employee has a right to refuse to answer. The employee cannot be disciplined for such refusal but is required to sit there until the supervisor terminates the interview. Leaving before this happens may constitute punishable insubordination.
Union Representative’s Rights Under Weingarten
You are not required to merely be ‘silent witness’. You have the right to:
- be informed by the supervisor of the subject matter of the interview
- take the employee aside for a private conference before questioning begins
- speak during the interview
- request that the supervisor clarify a question so that what is being asked is understood
- give employee advice on how to answer a question
- provide additional information to the supervisor at the end of the questioning.
You do not have the right to tell the employee not to answer nor, obviously, to give false answers. An employee can be disciplined for refusing to answer questions.
A standard statement to suggest to members is:
“If this discussion could in any way lead to my being disciplined or discharged, request that my Union representative be present at the meeting. Without representation, I choose not to answer any questions.”
The employer will be ordered to cease and desist and to post a notice. Discipline that is imposed for insisting on Weingarten rights will be overturned. Discipline will not be overturned if the discipline was for reasons other than insistence on Weingarten rights. Although information gained by the Employer from the employee in a meeting during which a breach of Weingarten rights occurred, may be excluded from a hearing on the matter.
An employee has NO right to the presence of a Union representative where:
- The meeting is merely for the purpose of conveying work instructions, training, or communicating needed corrections in the employee’s work techniques.
- The employee is assured by the employer prior to the interview that no discipline or employment consequences can result from the interview.
- The employer has reached a final decision to impose certain discipline on the employee prior to the interview, and the purpose of the interview is to inform the employee of the discipline or to impose it.
- Any conversation or discussion about the previously determined discipline which is initiated by the employee and without employer encouragement or instigation after the employee is informed of the action.
Even in the above four (4) circumstances, the employee can still ask for representation. Most employers will permit a representative to attend even when not required to.
Still have questions?? More below……
Prepared by Judith Nenrnann, Esq.
MTA Division of Legal Services September 19, 1996
What is the basis of the so-called “Weingarten rights”?
These rights are based upon private and public sector collective bargaining laws. An employee’s right to representation in investigatory or pre-disciplinary meetings was established in a 1975 United States Supreme Court decision, NLRB v. Weingarten, Inc. The state Labor Relations Commission has adopted the Weingarten rules for public employees covered by M. G. L. c. 150E.
What situations give rise to Weingarten rights?
- Where the employee has a reasonable expectation that discipline may result; for example, where the meeting is part of the employer’s disciplinary procedure.
- Where the purpose of the meeting or interview is to investigate an employees allegedly inadequate work performance or other misconduct, where discipline of any kind is a possible result.
- Where the purpose of the interview of meeting is to elicit facts, the employee’s “side of the story,” or obtain admissions or other evidence either to determine whether or not discipline is warranted OR to support a disciplinary decision already made.
- Where the employee is required to explain or defend his/her conduct in a situation which the employee reasonably fears could affect his/her working conditions or job security. [Note-that it is not clear whether this would include non-disciplinary situations, such as RIF’s].
What situations DO NOT give rise to Weingarten rights?
- Where the meeting or discussion is merely for the purpose of conveying work instructions, training, or needed corrections.
- Where the purpose of the meeting is simply to inform the employee about a disciplinary decision that has already been made and no information is sought from the employee.
- Where the employer has clearly and overtly assured the employee prior to the interview that no discipline or adverse consequences will result from the interview.
- Where any discussion that occurs after the employer has notified the employee of the discipline has been initiated by the employee rather than the employer.
Do job performance reviews or evaluation conferences give rise to Weingarten rights?
Possibly. We would argue that these rights apply where the employee’s performance has been under scrutiny and the employee reasonably believes that his/her job is in jeopardy. However, the right is unlikely to apply to classroom observations.
How about “counseling” sessions with supervisors regarding absenteeism or drug or alcohol problems?
Again, possibly, especially where the employer is seeking information from the employee or has given the employee a reasonable basis for believing that discipline or termination might result from the problems under discussion.
What constitutes a “reasonable expectation” that discipline may result?
The test is objective, not subjective. The employee’s belief must be a reasonable assessment of the objective circumstances. For example, has the employer provided any oral or written warnings? Have there been oral or written allegations of misconduct? Has the employee been under scrutiny previously? Have other employees been disciplined for conduct similar to that being investigated at this meeting? Note that an employer may be able to avoid Weingarten problems by clearly informing the employee that no discipline will result from the meeting and by following through on that promise.
What if the employer states that a disciplinary decision has already been made but then begins to question the employee about his or her conduct?
The cases are unclear on this situation. We recommend that employees ask for representation at any point in the meeting when the employer solicits information from them. We would argue that seeking such information shows that the employer is trying to support or possibly alter its disciplinary decision, which gives rise to Weingarten rights.
Does the location of the interview matter?
It is more likely that Weingarten fights are involved when the interview or discussion takes place in a supervisor’s office, but this is not a hard and fast rule
Does the employer have to inform you about your Weingarten rights before conducting the meeting or interview?
Absolutely not. It is up to employees to know their rights and ask for representation in investigatory or disciplinary interviews.
How and when should an employee request representation?
As soon as the employee becomes aware that the employer is seeking information that may result in discipline, or to support a disciplinary decision, the employee should state his/her desire for representation.
The employee’s request does not have to be in any particular form nor does it have to be in writing. Even words such as, “Shouldn’t I have a representative here?” have been considered sufficient to assert Weingarten rights.
As to when, the employee can make the request at any time, even in the middle of the meeting. (However, the employer will be permitted to use any information obtained before the request has been made, as long as the employer provides Weingarten rights promptly upon the employee’s request.)
Does the employee need to repeat the request for representation more than once?
No. It is incumbent upon the employer to provide Weingarten rights even if the request is made to a lower-level supervisor who is not conducting the meeting and is not repeated at the outset of the meeting.
What should the employee do if s/he is not sure whether or not a particular meeting calls for Weingarten rights?
There is no harm in asking for representation even if you’re not sure you’re entitled to it. The employer cannot discipline you simply for asking. Employees could also ask whether or not the meeting could result in disciplinary action; if the answer is anything but “no,” the employee would be reasonable in asking for representation.
Cautionary Note: An employee may not be protected if s/he refuses to participate in a meeting that is subsequently found to lack Weingarten status. Therefore, we recommend that employees consult with their union representatives any time they are called to a meeting with the employer, for advice about their rights.
What are the Weingarten rights that the employer must offer, after an employee has requested representation?
The employer has three lawful options:
- Grant the request and delay the interview or meeting until the representative arrives and has a chance to consult privately with the employee; or
- Discontinue the meeting or interview; or
- Allow the employee to choose whether to continue with the interview unrepresented or forego the interdew entirely.
If the employer insists that the meeting continue without a representative, may the employee refuse to answer questions or even leave the meeting?
Arguably yes. An employer cannot discipline or discharge an employee for refusing to surrender his Weingarten rights to representation. If it is truly a Weingarten situation, the employee may remain silent or even leave and return to his/her normal work duties. However, given the complexity and unpredictability of the law, it is often more prudent for the employee to comply with the employer’s directives, knowing that s/he might later be able to overturn any discipline that results from the unlawful meeting. Otherwise, the employee risks being disciplined for insubordination.
Can the employee insist on a particular representative? Does it have to be a union representative?
The employee may choose his/her own representative, whether it’s a union official or another employee, without the employer’s interference, as long as the choice does not unduly disrupt the employer’s ability to conduct the investigation. In practice, this usually means that the employer should try to comply with employees request, even if it means some delay in scheduling the meeting. On the other hand, the employee can’t expect the employer to postpone the meeting unreasonably. The reasonableness of either the employer’s or the employee’s behavior can only be measured on a case by case basis.
Does the employer have to give release time to the representative requested by the employee?
The general rule is that the employee may choose his/her representative if that person is “available.” If the interview or meeting is scheduled sufficiently in advance that the representative can meet with the employee on off-duty time, then they will be required to do so. Of course, your local collective bargaining agreement may also provide-for release time in these situations.
If the interview or meeting is scheduled so closely that off-duty consultation is not possible, the employer would have to provide release time to the representative who is on the premises unless the employer can establish some overriding management need that would preclude doing so.
What are the representative’s role, rights, and duties at a Weingarten meeting?
While Weingarten meetings are not “bargaining sessions,” the union representative has the following rights:
- To be informed about the subject matter of the meeting;.
- To consult privately with the employee before the meeting;
- To speak and be proactive during the interview, as long as doing so does not interfere with or disrupt the meeting;
- To advise and counsel the employee;
- To provide additional information to the employer at the end of questioning.
- To bear witness to the proceedings, take notes, etc..
If an employer has provided all the necessary Weingarten rights, may an employee refuse to answer questions?
No, unless the matter under discussion has criminal implications. Generally, an employee generally does not have the right to remain silent, as long as his/her representational rights have been honored, nor may the union representative direct the employee to remain silent.
Can an employee “waive” his/her Weingarten rights? How?
If an employee does not affirmatively ask for representation, s/he will be considered to have “waived” his/her rights. However, as noted earlier, the request for representation does not have to comprise any “magic words,” as long as it puts the employer reasonably on notice that the employee would prefer representation.
If the employer claims that the employee chose to continue the interview without representation the employer must demonstrate that the choice was voluntary, clear, and unmistakable. For example, if the employee elected to go forward without a representative only after the employer told him “things will be worse for you if you insist on having the union present,” then the choice would not be deemed “voluntary.”
What remedy is available for violation of Weingarten rights?
An employer commits a prohibited practice under Chapter 150E if it (1) refuses an employee’s request for representation during an investigatory or disciplinary meeting or otherwise withholds the full panoply of Weingarten rights; (2) disciplines an employee for asserting his/her Weingarten rights; (3) threatens or coerces an employee exercising Weingarten rights; or (4) threatens or disciplines a union representative for assisting an employee in a Weingarten meeting.
The Labor Relations Commission will order the employer to rescind any retaliatory threats or discipline imposed because an employee or union representative exercised Weingarten rights. Moreover, if, the Commission finds that the discipline ultimately imposed by the employer was affected by the information obtained at the unlawful meeting, or was affected by the fact that no union representative was present, then the Commission will also order that discipline rescinded. The Commission will also order the employer to post a notice of the violation.
Arguably, information obtained at a meeting in violation of Weingarten rights should be excluded from any eventual discharge or discipline arbitration.