Legal Overview

Merit Nova Scotia is often asked questions related to what a company can and cannot do when presented with a union certification drive. Contractors should not threaten workers either directly or indirectly, and so long as they do not promise them any benefits for rejecting a union, employers have a pretty free hand in telling their firm’s story and explaining why they choose to be open shop contractors. Members of management can state facts and give their opinions on unions. Employers can and should tell their employees why a union is not necessary.

Further, employers have the right to continue running their business as before. As a practical matter, it is advisable to consult with legal counsel before taking any action that would hurt a pro-union employee. This is because the employer may have to prove that the action was not taken because of the employee’s union activities. The following Do’s and Don’ts are courtesy of the Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC).

The Do’s

You can and should explain that open shop contractors believe in performing and rewarding work based on merit, without discrimination based on union affiliation. You can and should tell employees about any bad experiences you or others you know of have had with unions. You can and should talk about how working on an open shop basis has led to the company’s success, and how operating under a union contract would likely make it harder to compete for business. You can and should state that no employee has to pay dues or fees to any outside organization in order to work at your company. You can and should say you think employees should just say “No” if a union organizer asks them to sign a union card.

The Don’ts – TIPS

Employers do not have the right to threaten, intimidate or coerce employees into adopting the employer’s view on unions, or to interrogate or spy on employees to find out about their union activities or how they feel about the union. An easy way to remember the things employers and supervisors cannot do or say during a union organizing attempt is to think of the word: T-I-P-S. It will cover most of the pitfalls you can get into until you receive professional guidance.


You cannot threaten individuals participating in union activities with reprisals such as reducing employee benefits, firing the employee, or retaliation of any kind, and, of course, you cannot take such reprisals.


You cannot interrogate employees as to whether or not they signed any union card or whether they are supporting the organizing activity, how they intend to vote, or what they think about union representation.


You cannot promise wage or benefit increases, promotions, or any other future benefit to employees for opposing the union, nor can you give such benefits for this reason.


You cannot “spy” or conduct surveillance on union activities to determine who is attending union meetings of who is signing union cards or supporting the union. This applies to both work time and non-work time, on and off the firm’s premises.

Finally, employers should never discriminate against employees based upon their support for a union or based upon union opposition.

Disclaimer: This overview is provided for general information purposes only. Merit Nova Scotia strongly encourages all employers to seek legal counsel if and when a certification issue arises.


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