In the face of the power vested in the five-member National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to effect substantive changes in laws that cover non-union as well as union workplaces, many employers may fear they will lose their autonomy in managing their organizations. While there is little or nothing that individual employers can do to stop the anticipated shifts toward union-friendly rulings identified by Board Chair Wilma Liebman, there are legal and ethical actions you can take to mitigate any negative effects they may have on you and your employees. Below are one preventive action and six contingent actions you can take in anticipation of these changes.

The most effective antidote to outside intervention is preventive action — i.e., make a conscious decision to place a high priority on your employees. Create an employee-centered workplaceT, which I define as an environment in which every person, system, program, and process is focused on helping employees become fully successful. To obtain a tool to guide you in assessing how high a priority your employees believe they are, request our Employer Performance Scorecard. Since everyone wins when employees are fully successful, why would you NOT choose to make them a high priority?

Here are six legal and ethical contingent actions you can take to reduce the likelihood that anticipated NLRB rulings will have a negative impact on the employer-employee relationship in your organization:

  1. Monitor NLRB rulings and Executive Orders closely. Get expert help if necessary to identify the impact the changes they will have in your workplace. Think ahead and be pro-active; don't wait for the decisions to be handed down before you take action.
  2. It is illegal to discriminate against employees on the basis of union activity or membership. You can avoid engaging in illegal activity by applying workplace policies consistently and enforcing them rigorously.
  3. Educate yourself and all levels of management about employer rights and responsibilities as well as about what constitutes legal and illegal behavior.
  4. Hold managers strictly accountable for acting legally and ethically.
  5. Educate employees NOW about management's position on unionization in ways that they do not perceive as threatening or intimidating. Inform them of their right to join or refrain from joining a union. The timing for disseminating accurate and complete information to employees is important: "employer neutrality" clauses may prohibit such communication in the near future.
  6. Become familiar with the previous NLRB rulings targeted for reversal by NLRB Chair Liebman and make relevant adjustments to your policies NOW, such as those covering business e-mail use and solicitation in the workplace.

The saying, "The best offense is a good defense" is good advice for both employers and employees. Taking the preventive action of making employees a high priority in your workplace will reap benefits for your organization in terms of higher productivity and profitability and for your employees in terms of fair treatment. Coincidentally it also will ensure your employees see no need for union intervention. Your decisions and behaviors in the workplace will inform your employees' choices about union representation. What is your choice?

Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. You may contact Pat or call (562) 985-0333.

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