In 1972, a counter clerk who worked for a store called J. Weingarten in Houston, Texas was questioned by her employer for alleged theft. Although she was cleared in the investigation, she had been denied, after several requests, the presence of her Shop Steward during the questioning.
The Union representing her filed an unfair labor practice after the incident, and in 1975, the Supreme Court ruled in the Union’s favor. An important new right for workers emerged from this decision:
An employee may be represented by the Union at an investigatory interview with his/her employer when the employee reasonably believes that the interview may lead to disciplinary action.
Frequently Asked Questions about Weingarten Rights:
Q. Do Weingarten rights apply to me?
A. Weingarten rights apply to private-sector employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act (but not those covered by the Railway Labor Act) and all public-sector employees.
Q. Can I have a Shop Steward present at any meeting I have with management?
A. No, only when you have a reasonable belief that discipline will result from an investigatory meeting.
Q. What is an investigatory interview?
A. An investigatory interview occurs when a supervisor questions an employee to obtain information which could be used as a basis for discipline or asks an employee to defend his or her conduct.
Q. Is Management obligated to remind me of my Weingarten Rights prior to an investigatory meeting?
A. No, you must request a steward’s presence. Management has no obligation to remind you of your right.
Q. What if I’m told to be in my supervisor’s office at 10 a.m., but I don’t know the nature of the meeting?
A. You have a right to know beforehand what the subject of the discussion will be. And, you have the right to consult (caucus) with your steward before and during the meeting.
Q. What if a steward or representative isn’t available to attend the meeting?
A. You may name the steward or representative you want to attend the meeting with you, if that steward or representative is available. You may not insist upon the steward or representative of your choice if that person is not reasonably available and another steward or representative is available. If no steward or representative is reasonably available, you may request to have a co-worker attend the meeting with you. In the alternative, if no steward or representative is available, the employer must either discontinue the interview or offer you the choice between continuing the interview unaccompanied by a union steward or representative or having no interview at all (in which case the employer is free to take disciplinary action based on information obtained from other sources).
Q. What if a routine work meeting is taking place between my supervisor and me, but the nature of the meeting suddenly changes?
A. You have the right to stop the meeting and call in the steward at the point you believe you are being asked questions which could result in discipline. You cannot be punished for requesting a steward’s presence.
Q. If I request a steward, does the employer have to comply?
A. The Employer must choose from three options:
a. Grant the request and delay questioning until the steward arrives and has a chance to consult privately with the employee; or
b. Deny the request and end the interview immediately; or
c. Give the employee a choice of having the interview without representation.
Q. What if a supervisor denies my request for a steward?
A. If you are denied a steward’s presence and are still asked questions, the Employer commits an unfair labor practice and the employee has a right to refuse to answer. The Supervisor cannot discipline the employee for such a refusal.
Q. I asked for representation but my manager is proceeding with the interview anyway. What do I do?
A. You can refuse to attend the interview or answer the manager’s questions. If you do so, so long as your Weingarten rights apply to the interview the manager wants to conduct with you, the employer may not lawfully discipline you for refusing to participate in the interview. The employer is free, on the other hand, to take disciplinary action against you with regard to the subject matter of the interview, based on information the employer has from other sources. If you decide to participate in the interview and answer the manager’s questions, you can later protest the Weingarten violation, and, if there is in fact a Weingarten violation, the employer may not rely on information obtained from your interview to discipline you; again, however, the employer may discipline you based on information obtained from other sources.