Unionized Employees – Rights and Limitations
Can unionized employees hire a lawyer to help with their workplace issues?
We often receive phone calls from unionized employees, desperately looking for help, asking: can you still help me, even if I have a union? They ask, “but my union said I can’t hire a lawyer”.
This misconception is far too common and quite dangerous. Employees often end up not knowing their rights, and not seeking them or enforcing them – simply because someone told them they cannot hire a lawyer. Employees should not be under the impression that they may not consult with an employment and labour lawyer, even if they have a union. In fact, having a lawyer who is personally dedicated to a unionized employee can provide clarity regarding their rights and obligations at law.
A lawyer does not necessary only serve as representation. A number of lawyers focus their practices on advising already unionized employees about their rights as individuals.
There are a number of issues that a labour and employment lawyer can help a unionized employee with, including:
Duty of Fair Representation (DFR) complaints
A DFR is a process in which a complaint is made by the unionized employee, or grievor, raising the concern that the union failed to properly represent that employee’s interests. Grounds for pursuing a DFR include allegations of bad-faith conduct, discrimination, or arbitrariness on the part of the union in its decision-making process.
Many unionized employees do not believe their union will properly represent them. That said, and regardless of their sentiments, a grievance should be filed to indicate to the union that the employee is seeking to enforce their rights under the collective agreement.
Human Rights Violations and Complaints
Everyone has the right to work in a safe workplace absent from discrimination under the Human Rights Code and the Human Rights Act. All workers are protected against discrimination and can chose whether they want to pursue their rights in the grievance process alone, at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, or the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Even if the collective agreement states that all workplace issues should go through the regular grievance process, a grievor is entitled to pursue their right at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario or the Canadian Human Rights Commission with the assistance of their own independent lawyer of choice. Some employees may choose this option to have the benefit of specialized legal counsel who is dedicated to pursuing the legal matter as the employee sees fit.
Consultation and Advice (ILA)
Often people want a second opinion or to confirm that their matter is progressing regularly and correctly. Many times, employees do not fully understand the process or language used during grievance meetings or arbitrations. Even before the grievance process begins, employees often do not understand their legal options, or the steps involved to enforce their rights.
Unionized employees should be encouraged to seek independent legal advice to make sure they as the grievor are not entering into any settlements under duress or without full understanding.
Contact Achkar Law
If you are an employer or an employee and want to discuss how a labour and employment lawyer can help, please contact us our team at Achkar Law by phone at 1 (800) 771-7882, or email at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.