do i have any legal rights to sue my employer or union

ok after reading all of your answers i understand that hostile work enviroment dosent actually cover a verbally abusive rude disrespectful supervisor but my question is this i filed a complaint with his direct supervisors and also our union for his abusive behavior on numerous occasions .as well as other employees doing the same .so i took my complaint to the highest level with still no action taken . now he has filed a false retaliatory disciplinary action (i.e write-up ) for insubordination and dereliction of duties . which my immediate co-workers know is untrue . my union is failing to protect me and i am going to be suspended with possible termination ..

1 answer  |  asked Sep 18, 2003 5:39 PM [EST]  |  applies to New York

Answers (1)

David M. Lira
An Abusive Boss Where There is a Union

Although it is generally true that, under the employment at will doctrine, employees have to just put up with an abusive boss, there are exceptions. The exception that employees hope they fall under is in the anti-discrimination laws. But that exception proves to be narrow, because you have to be able to show that the motivation behind the abusive behavior is the employee's membership in a protected classification defined by things like race, religion, gender, etc.

Another important exception has to do with unions and collective bargaining agreements (CBA). Although referring to the CBA is absolutely essential, in most situations, unions will have the right to bargain with the employer (or grieve) the conditions of employment. Conditions of employment would include how emotionally abusive the workplace is. That is, I would say that employees who are union members would usually have the right to grieve a hostile work environment created by an abusive boss. In this case, you would not have to worry about motivation, and membership in protected classes.

The trick, however, is getting the union to act. Sometimes that can be difficult to do. Here, a number of things might help, and not all of them are steps dictate by some law. It helps to be active in the union. If the shop stewart fails to do his or her job, go over that person's head to the next highest official in the union. Go up as far as you have to until you get some action. It helps if you have a group of people doing this, as opposed to just one person.

If the union is really lazy, you might vote out the current shop stwart and other union officials in the next election. You could even threaten the union with bringing in another union. In short, union membership is political. To get things done, you have to be active.

It also helps to know the process. It may not, for example, be enough to just speak with the shop stewart, or union rep. You may have the misfortune of having particularly lazy ones. You may need to file a formal grievance to get them going.

Because you are a dues paying member, your union has a duty to fairly represent you. If it fails to do so, you could potentially sue the union. But, at least in the private sector, the statute of limitations on these types of lawsuits is very short, like 3 or 4 months, I forget exactly how long. (If you are a member of a public employee union in New York State, the statute of limitations would be 6 years.) And in any case, winning these types of lawsuits is very hard. You might increase your chances of winning by showing that you did everything you could to get the union to act. Even then, you might not always be able to successfully sue your union.

posted by David M. Lira  |  Sep 19, 2003 08:44 AM [EST]

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