An employer that encounters a union organization campaign should be aware of what types of communications are allowed. What can, and can you not, say to your employees? In British Columbia, employers need to ensure they are acting with the parameters of the Labour Relations Code.
The Labour Relations Code governs labour relations between employers, employees, and unions. It contains provisions relating to representation, collective bargaining, and other related matters.
When a union begins the process for employees to join and become a unionized workplace, this process is called certification. The Labour Relations Code contains the rules that must be followed by the union, employer, and employees during this period. For example, there are rules about what types of communications can be made, by whom, and when.
The Labour Relations Code attempts to balance an employer’s freedom of expression and a union’s right of representation. Section 6 of the Labour Relations Code sets out the provision that an employer is not allowed to interfere with the formation of a union. Section 8 provides the right to communicate: a person is able to express their views in relation to an employer or union, as long as the expression is free of intimidation or coercion.
Employers are not precluded from expressing their views on unionization to employees during an organization drive. However, an employer cannot communicate in a way which is intrusive. This means an employer must not use force, threats, fear, or compulsion for the purpose of controlling or influencing conduct. The communications will be viewed in a contextual manner, with consideration to the cumulative effect of the statements.
The expression of views by an employer, including views about unionization, is not necessarily inconsistent with free choice. However, where an employer expresses its views on unionization in a manner that effectively forces employees to listen, this manner of communicating views may render otherwise permissible expression coercive or intimidating.
An employer should always be aware and take care when communicating during a union certification process. There is a fine line between what can be perceived as an unfair labour practice when you consider the context and effect of the communication.