Permissible Actions by Employers Regarding Unions



The do’s and don’ts of dealing with unions

While unionization is declining in the United States—union membership has dropped by more than 10% since the early 1980’s —it’s still a threat to some businesses. Any non-supervisory employee can unionize, with the exception of some agricultural industry or domestic services workers.

If a union has targeted your business and employees are interested in forming a union, all is not lost. The key is to follow the law, set forth in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), and take only actions that are permissible.


Here is a list of what you can’t do—followed by suggestions for what you can do to try to discourage unionization.


What Employers Can’t Do Under the National Labor Relations Act


The NLRA is very specific about what employers cannot do if employees support a union. These behaviors fall under the acronym TIPS, which stands for threatening, interrogate, promise, and spy.

  • Threaten: You can’t threaten to discipline or fire an employee who engages in activity supporting a union. You also can’t change their working conditions, lower their pay, take away their benefits, or give them less desirable work assignments. Additionally, you can’t threaten to shut down your business or lay off employees if unionization is successful. If you allow employees to wear logos or other items that support other organizations, you can’t ask employees to stop wearing clothing, pins, or other items that demonstrate union support.
  • Interrogate: You can’t ask employees questions about their union activities. That means you can’t ask employees whether they belong to a union or how they plan to vote in an upcoming union election; you also can’t ask for information about others who may support the union. You also can’t ask employees about what happened in union meetings.
  • Promise: You aren’t allowed to promise any benefits, such as pay increases, holidays, or promotions, to employees if they agree not to support unionization.
  • Spy: You can’t spy on employees’ activities to determine whether they support the union; you also can’t surveil union activities.


What Employers Can Do


The NLRA protects employees’ rights to unionize. But that doesn’t mean you are powerless to protect your workplace. Here are some examples of what you can do.

  • You can advise employees that unions can be expensive because they charge dues.
  • You can explain that joining a union doesn’t guarantee higher pay or better benefits.
  • You can state that any changes that affect the workplace, even changes as simple as revising an employee’s schedule, would have to be negotiated with the union.
  • You can talk to employees about your experience with unions at other companies.
  • You can say that the company wants to remain union-free (so long as you don’t tell employees how to vote).
  • You can discipline any employee who violates the TIPS rules or who pressures or coerces another employee, regardless of whether they are pro-union or anti-union.


The bottom line is to stay within the confines of the law: you can’t discriminate against employees for participating in any union-related activities, and you can’t make promises. For more suggestions on how to stay compliant with the NLRA and other federal and state labor laws, check out the Poster Compliance Center website.