SEC and Union Settle Grievance Concerning Possible Retaliation Against Staff for Communicating Concerns to Senior Management


8/22/11: On August 11, the Union and the SEC entered into this settlement agreement to resolve a grievance concerning possible retaliation against staff for bringing program area concerns to the attention of senior Enforcement Division managers in Washington, D.C. In the agreement, the SEC explicitly affirms and recognizes the need for candid and unfiltered communications by SEC employees to management, without fear of reprisal by mid-level managers:

The Commission recognizes that communications between Division staff and management need to be candid and unfiltered. Through such communications, management can learn about and correct issues that undermine the Commission's mission and productivity. Division staff understand that they may raise their concerns regarding issues in the work place with their supervisors but need not inform their supervisors of their concerns nor have their comments approved by supervisors in advance of any communications with Commission management. Any efforts to limit those communications, through any retaliatory action or threats of retaliatory action, are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

The Union's grievance giving rise to this settlement alleged that, during a visit by the Director of the Division of Enforcement to the Miami Regional Office last summer, he met with several MIRO attorneys, together with the Associate Regional Director in MIRO Enforcement. At that meeting, the Director sought comments and/or concerns from the staff, and several of them candidly articulated their concerns.

The Union's grievance also alleged that, the next day, the Associate Regional Director in MIRO Enforcement called a meeting of the same attorneys during which he angrily criticized them for sharing their concerns with senior management from Washington the previous day, telling them that:

  • He was appalled and disappointed;
  • Words can have direct and collateral consequences on the speakers and others; 
  • For the people who didn’t speak up to counter issues yesterday as [one of the attorneys] did, it’s too late to apologize – a day late and a dollar short; and
  • If we choose a time and place to air a grievance, then make sure it’s the appropriate audience and we must vet it in advance within the [Miami] office. 

The Union first attempted to resolve this situation informally, without success. Indeed, management at first dismissed the matter as a "misunderstanding." The Union saw it as something much more serious. Due to the Union's concerns that these communications constituted an attempt to stifle discussion and intimidate the staff, the Union filed a grievance against the manager. Threatening the staff with “collateral consequences” for engaging in candid and open communications within the agency is simply unacceptable and managers must understand that they do not serve as screeners of the staffs’ comments to senior management. Indeed, given the agency's recent history, the Union believes that the SEC should be doing everything in its power to encourage open communications, not discourage them.

In the settlement of this matter, the SEC explicitly recognizes that communications between the staff and management must be candid and unfiltered and that efforts to limit those communications through retaliation or threats of retaliation will not be tolerated. The SEC also recognizes that the staff does not need to have its comments approved by local managers before speaking to senior SEC leadership. The settlement also commits the SEC to taking steps to ensuring that this message is understood by MIRO’s managers. 

Although the Union certainly wishes that management had independently addressed this behavior, we believe that this settlement demonstrates the Union’s commitment to demanding that all SEC employees be treated with dignity and respect as is required by our Collective Bargaining Agreement.