Labor Pains

Lawful Assembly

Don't let these court decisions keep you from instituting quality circles or employee participation committees because these groups can increase productivity, efficiency and morale. The key is to make sure they don't fit the NLRB definition of an employer-dominated labor organization:

  • Don't have employees who serve in the quality circle act as representatives for other employees, soliciting ideas and surveying opinions. Restrict their role to brainstorming their own ideas.
  • Limit discussion to issues of work quality, efficiency, productivity or customer service, rather than terms of employment such as wages, hours and benefits.
  • Don't have the groups make proposals for management to consider, implement or reject because that looks too much like collective bargaining. Courts have ruled that an occasional instance of the group "dealing with" management is not a violation, but a consistent pattern or practice is.
  • Don't let management dominate the group. While an agenda helps keep the group focused on legitimate areas for discussion, let the employees create their own agenda and structure their own meetings. Simply being aware of the issues here will likely help you create quality circles that won't bring the NLRB to circle around your business.

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This article was originally published in the December 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Labor Pains.

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