Group Action Vs. Open Door Complaints

Many companies have an Open Door Policy for employees to make confidential complaints about job issues so that management can give those concerns consideration and resolve them in everyone’s best interest. Some companies even set up a Hot Line for these complaints. You can find these in your employee handbook.

If you use the Open Door or Hot Line for your serious complaints you are making a huge mistake. Here is why.

The law only recognizes certain privileged or protected communications. For example, you can safely tell your priest, doctor or lawyer information and those professionals have to keep it quiet.

What you say to your boss or to the human resources director is NOT a privileged communication. Those people can tell anyone what you said. And if what you have told HR during the Open Door meeting might hurt the company in any way, the HR person will definitely tell your boss.

Another point about Open Door is it is designed for one-on-one communication between you and the HR person. That sounds nice until you realize it is not confidential. Also, one-on-one communications are not protected by law, while group complaints are protected by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Note that the NLRA only protects private sector employees (not government employees) and does not protect supervisors.

Section 7 is a good law to know because if you have a legitimate work complaint and can find a co-worker who shares your complaint, it only takes two people to turn an unprotected complaint into a protected complaint. If you make a Section 7 group complaint, and you are fired, you can file a claim with the National Labor Relations Board and have a chance to get your job back with back pay. If you complain on your own and you are fired, you have no protection. It’s that simple.

As a general rule, if you can’t get a co-worker to join you, don’t make the complaint because you can be fired for making it.

By the way, your company is well aware of Section 7 group action rights. That is why they want to hear your complaints one-on-one.