When a railroad employee is injured, the railroad will usually hold an investigation or disciplinary hearing to detemine whether there was a violation of the railroad’s safety rules. The employee is represented by his local union officer at such a hearing. The union officer and employee will obviously have detailed discussions about the events leading to the injury. Are these discussions confidential?
In almost all instances, the answer is no. That means that if the employee later brings an FELA claim against the railroad, the union officer may be compelled by the court to reveal what the employee said in preparation for the disciplinary hearing. Illinois is the only state to pass a law protecting such communications. The Illinois law recognizes a “labor relations privilege,” which protects from disclosure any information acquired by a union agent from a member during the representative relationship (subject to some exceptions).
It is important for railroad employees to know that in every other jurisdiction, a labor relations privilege is not recognized in this situation. Your discussions with your union representative should be limited to those facts necessary to protect your rights under the collective bargaining agreement. Anything you discuss with your union might later be revealed during a possible FELA case. If you have questions about whether to discuss certain information with your union, talk to an experienced railroad law attorney. All communications with an attorney (whether he or she eventually handles your case or not) will be privileged and protected from any later disclosure.