Overview: Employers with a unionized workforce are bound by special considerations when it comes to dealing with their employees, typically outlined in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The CBA governs employer-employee relations regarding significant issues like performance evaluation, discipline, termination procedures and - where employees perceive the employer has not fulfilled its obligations under the CBA - grievance procedures.
Union grievances typically stem from a perceived violation of the CBA and involve intricate procedural rules and guidelines to ensure that both the employer and the unionized employees are fairly represented in their positions. In many cases, CBAs provide for union representatives (often referred to as "stewards") who prosecute and oversee employee complaints at the lowest level to ensure employees are handled fairly by representatives of the employer. Where the steward is not able to steer the grievance toward an amicable resolution, the grievance may proceed to HR. HR must then balance the employer's interests with that of the unionized employees with an eye toward pursuing the employer's business goals while also maintaining employee morale and productivity.
Trends: More and more, prudent employers are negotiating the inclusion of time limits for grievance procedures in the CBA. Time limits require employees to bring grievances within a certain period of time after an incident. These limitations can protect the employer against accruing potential damages while being unaware of claimed violations. However, the greater the passage of time between the incident and the grievance, the more difficult it can be to collect vital evidence to assess the validity of the claim - which could either prove advantageous or detrimental to the employer.
Author: Melissa Boyce, JD, Legal Editor
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