Here at Erin O’Rourke Law, we represent a wide variety of clients facing issues in the realm of labour and employment law. Many people believe that because they belong to a union, they cannot hire a lawyer under any circumstances. This is a common misconception—in fact, we are able to assist unionized employees in a variety of situations.  

1. With the express permission of the union 

It is a good idea to check your collective agreement to see whether hiring independent counsel is in fact allowed. There are many collective agreements which stipulate that employees are permitted to hire their own representation that is independent of the union representative. Other times, it might be possible to reach out to the union and receive permission to be represented by independent counsel. Where the union has provided explicit permission, an employee can be represented by independent counsel.  

2. Where the union has violated the duty of fair representation  

S. 75 of the Ontario Labour Relations Act compels unions to act in a manner that is not “arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith.” If you believe that your union has violated this duty, you can hire an independent lawyer to represent you in a complaint against your union. 

3. Where the issue is related to human rights  

If you believe that your employer treated you in a way that violates your human rights, contrary to either the Ontario Human Rights Code or the CanadianHuman Rights Act, you are entitled to hire a lawyer to represent you in a complaint against your employer. The same goes for complaints made against your union under a human rights statute. This is the case even if your collective agreement stipulates that all complaints must go through the union—this rule does not apply when it comes to human rights cases, where everyone has the right to independent counsel. 

4. Where the issue is related to safety  

If your complaint is related to a health and safety violation, you can hire a lawyer to represent you. We can help you make a complaint against your employer under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, regardless of whether you belong to a union.

5. For consultation and advice

Even if you are in a situation where you cannot hire independent counsel to represent you in your grievance, you may still seek the advice of a lawyer to help you better understand your rights and options. We can help guide you though the grievance process to ensure that it is being conducted fairly and your rights are being respected.

Anisha Nag

Anisha Nag is a Juris Doctor student at Osgoode Hall Law School. She has extensive experience in immigration and refugee law and aspires to practice in this area of law upon her graduation in 2022. In 2021, Anisha participated in Osgoode Hall’s Intensive Program in Immigration and Refugee Law and completed a legal internship at the law office of Raoul Boulakia. Volunteer work is very important to Anisha. She has done pro bono legal research for the Centre for Refugee Studies and the Empowerment Council. She currently volunteers at the refugee shelter Romero House where she serves as an English as a Second Language tutor for teenaged refugees.

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