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Managing Investigations Involving Union Reps

Union reps can make an investigation longer and more stressful, but they can also help to convince the employee that your methods are sound.

Posted by Timothy Dimoff on March 25th, 2021

At some point in their careers, most workplace investigators will have a case that involves an employee who is a member of a union. While all investigations must be conducted fairly, impartially and thoroughly, the presence of a union and the potential of a grievance or arbitration being filed can make the investigation a little more complicated.


Make employees feel heard

When an employee submits a complaint or grievance, no matter the severity or subject, your response should be professional and compassionate. This free employee grievance letter response template includes a structure and wording you can use every time to ensure consistent, respectful replies.

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What Do Union Reps Do During an Investigation?


First and foremost, in any investigation, the union is there to represent their member. The representative’s purpose is to make sure the investigation is fair and impartial, and that their client receives all rights afforded to them under collective bargaining agreements and by federal or state laws.

Unions usually take a supporting role during an investigation. However, they can make the investigation more difficult or be helpful, depending upon how the investigation goes and how involved the union becomes.

It is incumbent upon the employee to request a union member to be present at investigative interviews or hearings. In this case, the union is there to represent the employee. They generally do not have the ability to participate in questioning during an interview or in commenting on the investigation. They are there mainly to observe.


RELATED: Effective Grievance Handling: The Ultimate Guide for Employers


Potential Challenges


There also may be times when an investigation involves both a member of the bargaining unit and a member of management. In this case, the union has the sole purpose of representing the bargaining unit member.

If both are from the same bargaining unit, there is a possibility of the union challenging the investigation findings. This can lead to stress, increase the time and effort required for the investigation and even divide the workforce. Conflicts and feeling unsupported are often a by-product of this type of situation.


RELATED: How to Respond to an Employee Grievance Letter


Keeping the Peace


The best course to take in any of these situations is to make every effort to avoid a conflict. You may even want to consider having a member of the union take part in the investigation. While this may seem counterproductive, remember that the union is there to protect their worker. Having the union agree on the integrity of the investigation and the facts of the case may actually help the worker to accept that everything was conducted fairly and impartially.

Additionally, having the union participate may also help in avoiding grievance charges of the methods used in the investigation, which will help all parties move forward towards reaching real resolutions.

However, it’s important to remember that the union has no say in whether or not the claim that instigated the investigation is valid or in any disciplinary actions that may be taken. Union support of the findings can also help with supporting workplace culture issues and making employees feel like they have been treated fairly.


To reduce risk of fines and lawsuits and to protect employees, you should respond to every grievance quickly and fairly. A clear grievance handling policy streamlines the response process. Download our free checklist for tips on writing yours.

Timothy Dimoff
Timothy Dimoff

President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services

Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues.
He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University.

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