What are Management Rights?

In this blog we will talk about Management Rights.  In our next blog we will talk about Union Rights.

It is absolutely essential for all of management to understand that the collective agreement is a contract and as such is owned every bit as much by the company as it is by the union.

The contract not only imposes certain obligations on management and the union, but it also helps establish what rights management has in addition to and outside of the collective agreement.  These is what is called –  management rights or residual rights.  What are the typical Management rights that exist even with a collective agreement?

The following generalities tend to hold true in most circumstances unless altered by a collective agreement clause.

Management has the right to determine what work will be done, when it will be done and who will perform the work. The collective agreement may determine the pay an employee receives when performing work, but rarely does a collective agreement provide ownership of the work to anyone other than management. So for example, management can choose to have work deferred to another shift rather than assigning it to employees on overtime. In the same vein, unless management has agreed otherwise, work can be contracted out to others unless doing so undermines the viability of the bargaining unit.

In practical terms, it is the right of management to determine how work gets done.  This negates the myth that employees can refuse to do something they have been assigned to do – because “it’s not my job!”

Management also has the right to set rules that employees have to follow.

These might include safety rules or rules to conform to corporate policies and processes. This right is only limited by a set of tests that include having a business reason for the rule, ensuring the rule does not conflict with any agreed upon provisions of the collective agreement and establishing rules that are the least onerous on employees. Once established, the employees have to be made aware of the rules and made aware of the consequences for not following them.  As a whole, none of these restrictions seem to be limiting in any way – rather these are practical principles that simply make sense.

Again, unless management has agreed to some other arrangement, management has the authority to determine what the acceptable standard of performance is and to hold employees accountable for achieving that standard. As with rules, the limitations on this right are that they must be reasonable (a standard should be achievable by the majority of employees performing the work in a safe manner), the standard has to be known by employees and they ought to be given feedback as to how well they are performing and the potential consequences for underperforming. Clearly this is no different then what we expect in a non-union environment. These standards do not have to be negotiated nor put into a collective agreement.

To help  front line management understand management rights and how to manage with a collective agreement and, we suggest the labour relations lead takes steps to involve them in the bargaining process. This includes being consulted prior to bargaining on what changes may be needed, debriefing them after bargaining has concluded, and providing ongoing training regarding the practical implications of management rights.

The Union has rights and obligations in a union environment too.  That will be explored in an upcoming blog along with other topics in our Series..  “Managing in a Union Environment”.