Communicating With the Workforce — A Very Good Idea, But Proceed With Caution

25 March 2013 Labor & Employment Law Perspectives Blog

Most employers communicate with their workforce about a wide variety of employment related issues — personnel policies, wage and benefit issues, organizational changes, etc. These communications — whether verbal or in writing — can be an effective way of maintaining high-quality employee relations and positive employee morale. Unfortunately, they also can provide support for employee claims of all varieties if not delivered properly and carefully. In fact, employer communications to their workforce often turn up in employment disputes as evidence relevant to an employer’s alleged wrongdoing. For that reason alone, employers should follow a few basic rules when communicating with their employees about employment related matters:

  • Where an employer representative verbally addresses groups of employees about employee relations topics, there is always the possibility of misinterpretation or misunderstanding of what has been said. For that reason, it is always helpful to maintain some kind of written documentation as to what was said during a verbal presentation to employees. That documentation can range from an outline of topics discussed to detailed notes taken during the presentation, but it is important to have some written confirmation of what was said with as much detail included as is possible under the circumstances. Additionally, employers should use sign-in sheets or other means of determining which employees are present when verbal presentations are made.
  • Remember that comments made to the workforce by management representatives — whether verbally in a face-to-face presentation, or documented in some kind of written communication — can form the basis for binding commitments from the employer. Even offhand comments about issues like wage increases or benefit improvements can later come back to haunt an employer under certain circumstances. For that reason, it is important that in both verbal and written communications to the workforce, employer representatives make only those commitments which they have been specifically authorized to make. Any such communication should be carefully planned, approved and executed so as to minimize the possibility for unintended consequences.
  • Where employer representatives are communicating with employees represented by labor organizations, the limits on what can and cannot be said with regard to employment-related matters are even more stringent. Employers may not engage in “direct dealing” with employees on matters that typically must be negotiated with labor organizations — a very broad spectrum covering a very wide range of topics related to employee wages, hours and working conditions. Employers should exercise great caution in discussing such topics directly with employees if their labor representatives are not involved in the conversation, and should seek additional guidance from their counsel if they have questions about how to navigate these very murky waters.
  • Supervisors and other lower level management representatives should receive training on whether, when, and how to communicate with employees on employee relations issues. The training should include guidance on the many positive benefits which can accrue from effective communications with the workforce, while also cautioning about the problems which can be encountered where communications are not carried out appropriately.
  • Make sure that all communications to the workforce on employment related matters are as concise, direct and to the point as they can possibly be. Statements — verbal or written — which are subject to varying interpretations will do little to provide employees with certainty about the specific topic under discussion, and can provide a breeding ground for incorrect understandings which can later cause difficulties for the employer.
This blog is made available by Foley & Lardner LLP (“Foley” or “the Firm”) for informational purposes only. It is not meant to convey the Firm’s legal position on behalf of any client, nor is it intended to convey specific legal advice. Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Foley & Lardner LLP, its partners, or its clients. Accordingly, do not act upon this information without seeking counsel from a licensed attorney. This blog is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Communicating with Foley through this website by email, blog post, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship for any legal matter. Therefore, any communication or material you transmit to Foley through this blog, whether by email, blog post or any other manner, will not be treated as confidential or proprietary. The information on this blog is published “AS IS” and is not guaranteed to be complete, accurate, and or up-to-date. Foley makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the operation or content of the site. Foley expressly disclaims all other guarantees, warranties, conditions and representations of any kind, either express or implied, whether arising under any statute, law, commercial use or otherwise, including implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Foley or any of its partners, officers, employees, agents or affiliates be liable, directly or indirectly, under any theory of law (contract, tort, negligence or otherwise), to you or anyone else, for any claims, losses or damages, direct, indirect special, incidental, punitive or consequential, resulting from or occasioned by the creation, use of or reliance on this site (including information and other content) or any third party websites or the information, resources or material accessed through any such websites. In some jurisdictions, the contents of this blog may be considered Attorney Advertising. If applicable, please note that prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Photographs are for dramatization purposes only and may include models. Likenesses do not necessarily imply current client, partnership or employee status.

Related Services

Insights