How can a union protect you from workplace interrogation?

You’re sitting at your desk, minding your own business. Suddenly, your boss comes storming out of his office, fuming. The air in the room seems to stand still. He announces that there’s been a breach of confidence in the office, and he’s going to be questioning employees individually. One by one, he calls your coworkers into his office to take part in the investigation.

Regardless of whether you’re complicit in the violation or not, you’re probably nervous. You’re worried your boss might try to pin the offense on you, or that others may use you as a scapegoat. You could be concerned about the consequences of facing the investigative panel alone. Fortunately, if you’re a member of a union, you don’t have to.

Right to representation

As a union member, the Weingarten rights allow you to have a union representative present with you if:

  • Your employer is interviewing you as part of a workplace investigation and
  • You have reason to believe the investigation could lead to disciplinary action.

In such cases, you may ask your employer to conduct the investigation with your union representative present. If you make this request, your employer is legally obligated to do one of the following:

  • Agree to your request—and postpone the interview until your union representative becomes available.
  • Refuse your request—and terminate the interview right away.
  • Give you the option of either proceeding with the interview without your representative present or ending the interview.

If your employer’s response diverges from any of the above options, it could constitute an unfair labor practice. However, there are certain ways your employer could get around the above requirements.

Weingarten circumvention

One key prerequisite of Weingarten rights is that an employee must feel that the likelihood of disciplinary action. If your employer clarifies that no disciplinary action will result from the investigation—and no such action is subsequently taken—then they are free to interview you without a union representative present.

Exception to the rule

Weingarten rights only apply to employees covered under the National Labor Relations Act or the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute—which encompass most union members. Railroad and airline employees, however, do not have these rights.

Knowing your rights

If a police officer arrests you, they must read you your Miranda rights. However, Weingarten rights work differently. Your employer has no obligation to advise you of these rights. The onus is on you to know your rights and claim them yourself.

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