Do you think you're being shortchanged on overtime pay? Or maybe you're pregnant and want to know how much time you can take off under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
It's fairly easy to get the facts - and to find out which federal agency to contact - by reading the posters that companies are required to post in common gathering areas such as lunchrooms and around the coffeepot.
Now companies must add another poster, spelling out employee rights to join labor unions and bargain collectively without facing retaliation. And if a company posts its employee handbook or policies online, the information on union rights has to be included there as well.
The new rule goes into effect Nov. 14 and affects nearly all private employers, including labor unions. It excludes agricultural, railroad and airline employers, and for the time being, the U.S. Postal Service, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The Labor Department began requiring federal contractors to make a similar disclosure about union rights two years ago.
"It's about time," said Richard Shaw, secretary-treasurer of the Harris County AFL-CIO, referring to the 76 years it's been since the National Labor Relations Act was passed. "The right to join a union is one of the best-kept secrets in this country. And this poster will finally expose that secret."
Shaw speculates the information will make organizing a little easier.
"People will realize that it's a right guaranteed to them by federal law," he said.
Hasn't seen a spike
John L. Collins, who heads up the labor and employment practice for Seyfarth Shaw in Houston, said he isn't so sure. There hasn't been much of a spike in union organizing at government contracting sites in the two years contractors have been required to put up similar posters, said Collins, who represents management clients.
But the new federally mandated poster can lead to other headaches for employers, Collins said.
An employer that fails to post the notice may be subject to a charge of unfair labor practice, according to the NLRB. While that may not sound like a big deal, it could end up playing a decisive role in the middle of an organizing drive, Collins said.
Say, for example, a union might need more time for organizing. A complaint about a missing poster could end up delaying the election until the union builds its base of support, Collins said.
A missing poster also could extend the existing six-month statute of limitations against unfair labor practices violations such as firing employees for supporting a union.
Aim is quick resolutions
The six-month limit is designed so workplace problems can be resolved quickly, said Scott Davidson, an employment lawyer who represents management clients with Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell in Houston. But if employees are not told about their union-related rights as specified in the new rules, the board is taking the position that the six-month limit on complaints may not apply.
That effectively means employers have open- ended liability, even if the alleged violation occurred a year or two earlier, Davidson said.
He said failure to post the notice also could be used as evidence of anti-union bias, which could become important later if a company faces other unfair labor practice charges.
Available by Nov. 1
The bottom line? Put up the posters, which will be available free of charge by Nov. 1 from any NLRB office. Employers in Houston can go to the NLRB office at the Mickey Leland Federal Building, 1919 Smith, Suite 1545.
Or employers can download the notice from the board's website at www.nlrb.gov.