The TIPS and FOE Rules Explained

A union organizing drive among your employees can be stressful and strain relations between staff and management, whose actions and words are scrutinized. Any sign that management is actively working to discourage employees from forming a union could result in accusations of unfair labor practices and action by the National Labor Relations Board as well as further heighten tensions between management and staff in the workplace. The basic union rules of appropriate communication from managers can be remembered with two acronyms: T.I.P.S. and F.O.E. Learning the TIPS rule and the FOE rule in advance can prevent costly communication mistakes.

Employers’ Rights Against Unions

What NOT to Say or Do: The T.I.P.S. Rule

So what does T.I.P.S. stand for? T.I.P.S. stands for threats, interrogations, promises, and surveillance. We’ll outline the specifics of what each of those words really means when it comes to communication with employees during a union-organizing drive.

Union rules state that employers cannot legally engage in the following actions during union organizing activities:

  • Threats: It is illegal to threaten employees or carry out threats against employees because of their support for unionizing. For example, a supervisor cannot tell staff she will lower their wages if they support the union or discipline an employee more harshly because of his union involvement.
  • Interrogations: You are not allowed to question employees about their own or other employees’ support of the union. Supervisors cannot ask an employee if she signed a union authorization card, for example.
  • Promises: Management cannot legally interfere with union organizing efforts by promising employees some reward if they choose not to support a union at the workplace. One example would be promising a bonus if the union campaign loses.
  • Surveillance: Spying on union activity against union rules and is illegal. Surveillance examples include taking photos of union activity participants or eavesdropping on employee conversations. Even if invited, managers should not attend union meetings.


What You Can Say: The F.O.E. Rule

What does F.O.E. stand for? F.O.E. stands for facts, opinions, and examples. Union rules state that employers can share the following items with employees:

  • Facts: You can share verifiable facts about the union and the union organizing process. Reliable sources of information include the National Legal and Policy Center’s Union Corruption Update collection, the Center for Union Facts’ database of statistics and details about the labor movement, and the National Labor Relations Board.
  • Opinions: Sharing your personal beliefs about why the union is not needed at your workplace is legal. It’s also okay to relate personal experiences with unions.
  • Examples: It is okay to talk about specific examples that illustrate problems with the union or reasons why the company doesn’t need a union. Acceptable topics include stories of union corruption, the positive ways managers and employees work together, and anecdotes about strikes.


The TIPS & FOE Rules In Action

Generally speaking, employers legally can express their opposition to the union, and they can urge employees to oppose. They can talk about the pros and cons of union membership. Managers can discuss factual information related to labor law and how unions operate, as well as share examples comparing unionized and non-unionized companies’ wages, benefits, and so on. Keep in mind the T.I.P.S. rules, though, and be careful not to even suggest something that could be construed as coercion or promises. 

Be open about your employees’ rights during union organizing. Greatly enhance the quality of future interactions by role-playing various possible scenarios that might take place between employees and managers during union organizing efforts. Both before and during any union organizing campaign, company leaders should work to align individual managers’ messages with those of the company and be sure supervisors understand how what they say may risk an unfair labor practices charge.

Of course, despite a company’s best efforts, sometimes union campaigns press forward straight to an election. As an employer, you still have rights and there are still legal ramifications for what you can and cannot do. Stay informed, stay positive, and focus on the things you can control.

Explainer Videos

Get ahead and prepare your workforce now for the possibility of handling a union organizing campaign. Our TIPS and FOE explainer videos will create trust between supervisors and employees and help you avoid Unfair Labor Practice charges down the road.

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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