Non-Union Workers May Have New Ally at Disciplinary Hearings

November 12, 2001 ( -- Plan sponsors may need to set another place at disciplinary hearings, following the ruling of a federal court.

The court backed the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which set a precedent last year when it decided that The Epilepsy Foundation of Northeast Ohio had violated the rights of Arnis Borgs, one of their employees.

As a result, workers at non-union companies may now have the right to bring an ally to a disciplinary hearing –as employees of union companies have since 1975.

Case History

The ruling stems from 1996 when Borgs and his colleague Ashraful Hasan, who both worked on a program to move high school students with epilepsy into jobs, sent a memo to their bosses criticizing the way they were managed and the way program was being run.

His boss, Christine Loehrke, scheduled a meeting with Borgs and his supervisor to talk things over. Borgs, who says Loehrke had a pattern of intimidating staffers, asked that Hasan be included. Loehrke refused.

Borgs was fired for refusing to meet, and Hasan was dismissed two months later.

The pair then filed a complaint with the NLRB. But the Epilepsy Foundation argued it was just doing what was necessary to manage disruptive employees.

For and Against

The case raises questions for employers and employees in nonunion workplaces. Some groups, such as the Labor Policy Association, an industry group for personnel executives, argue that if it becomes widely used it could interfere with managers’ ability to discreetly handle situations such as sexual harassment cases.

But labor unions, viewing the case as a win, say the ruling could give workers the protection they need to counter managers bent on retaliating against employees.

The questions raised by the decision have long been settled in union workplaces, where employees regularly bring union stewards or other representatives with them into disciplinary meetings.

That right has been in place since 1975 for union workers. But the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that oversees union-employer relations, changed its mind several times on whether such rights also extended to nonunion workers.