In 1975, the Supreme Court held that an employee has the right to be accompanied by a union representative while being questioned by the employer during an investigatory meeting regarding issues that may lead to discipline or affect your personal working conditions. This is often referred to as “Weingarten Rights.” Weingarten was the name of one of the parties in a landmark case on this issue.
An employer does not have to inform an employee he or she has the right to union representation. So what this means is that first and most important is that YOU must ask for a steward to be present to provide union representation and second the meeting must be investigatory in nature, potentially resulting in discipline. The steward’s job is to represent our members and to prevent management from coercing employees into confessions of misconduct. The Weingarten decision means that you don’t have to be alone when being interrogated by management.
Weingarten rights apply only during investigatory interviews. An investigatory interview occurs when (1) management questions an employee to obtain information; and (2) the employee has a reasonable belief that discipline or other adverse consequences may result.
Not every discussion with management is an investigatory interview. For instance, a supervisor may speak with an employee about the proper way to do a job. The supervisor may even ask questions. But because the likelihood of discipline is remote, the conversation is not an investigatory interview. A shop-floor conversation can change its character, however. If the supervisor’s attitude becomes hostile and the meeting turns into an investigatory interview the employee is entitled to representation.
An employee only has Weingarten rights for investigatory interviews. If the employer is meeting with the employee solely for the purpose of imposing discipline, there are no Weingarten rights. However, our CWA Collective Bargaining Agreements provide for representation at such meetings as follows: Frontier Communications CBA-Article 20 and AT&T Wireless CBA—Article 17.
Under the Supreme Court’s Weingarten decision, the following rules apply to investigatory interview: The employee can request union representation before or at any time during the interview. When an employee asks for representation, the employer must choose from among three options: Grant the request and delay questioning until the union representative arrives; Deny the request and end the interview immediately; or Give the employee a choice of; (a) having the interview without representation or (b) ending the interview. If the employer denies the request for union representation and continues with the meeting, the employee can refuse to answer questions.
Employers sometimes assert that the only function of a steward at an investigatory interview is to observe the discussion; in other words, to be a silent witness. This is incorrect. The steward must be allowed to advise and assist the employee in presenting the facts. When the steward arrives at the meeting : The supervisor or manager must inform the steward of the subject matter of the interview: in other words, what is being investigated. The steward must be allowed to have a private meeting with the employee before questioning begins. The steward can speak during the interview, but cannot insist that the interview be ended. We strongly encourage our members to take advantage of having a steward present at an investigatory interview. In addition to the rights listed above, stewards can: Serve as a witness to prevent a supervisor from giving a false account of the conversation. Object to intimidation tactics or confusing questions. Help an employee avoid making fatal admissions. Advise an employee, when appropriate, against denying everything, thereby giving the appearance of dishonesty and guilt. Warn an employee against losing his or her temper. Discourage an employee from informing on others. Raise extenuating factors.
Your Weingarten Rights
If you are called into a meeting with management, inform them of the following when the meeting begins: “If this meeting could in any way lead to my being disciplined or terminated, or affect my personal working conditions, I respectfully request that my Union Representative, Steward, or Officer be present at this meeting. Until my representative arrives, I choose not to participate in this discussion.” The bottom line? Weingarten Rights are yours, but only if YOU ASK FOR THEM.