Professionals in employee relations and human resources want to improve communications with employees. One of the best ways to improve communications is to create employee involvement programs such as “quality circles,” safety and other committees. For example, one non-union company created an in-house safety committee to review training programs and disciplinary actions to be imposed when employees violate safety rules. The committee spoke with employees who recommended topics to be covered during training programs, an expense reimbursement program for attending safety courses and different types of disciplinary actions for violations of safety rules. The committee then recommended that management implement its suggestions. Management refused and the committee capitulated.
Did management violate federal law by creating and dealing with the committee? The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”), an agency of the federal government, has ruled that these types of committees may be unlawful, even if the committees are located in non-unionized companies. By engaging in a “give-and-take” with management about wages, working hours and conditions of employment, the company may have created an in-house union and dominated or interfered with the formation or administration of a labor organization. If the committee were located in a unionized company, the company may have directly dealt with an alternative, in-house labor organization. Thus, the company may have undermined the union, which the employees selected as their exclusive collective bargaining representative.
When creating and working with in-house committees, companies need to be aware of these factors and not violate the National Labor Relations Act. To help companies understand and comply with these rules, the Employment, Labor & Benefits Practice Group has drafted a Client Advisory to address these concerns. A copy may be requested from your relationship attorney within the Practice Group.