On June 18, 2012, the NLRB launched a new page on its website that describes the rights of employees who act together, even if they are not in a union. The new page, at www.nlrb.gov/concerted-activity, defines the term “protected, concerted activity” as the term is used in the Act. On the webpage, the NLRB explains:
“The [National Labor Relations Act] gives employees the right to act together to try to improve their pay and working conditions or fix job-related problems, even if they aren’t in a union. If employees are fired, suspended, or otherwise penalized for taking part in protected group activity, the National Labor Relations Board will fight to restore what was unlawfully taken away. These rights were written into the original 1935 National Labor Relations Act and have been upheld in numerous decisions by appellate courts and by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The webpage then provides summaries of more than a dozen cases involving protected, concerted activity, which can be viewed by clicking on pins on a map of the United States. For instance, the pin atop St. Louis, Mo., represents a complaint filed by a customer service representative who was fired by her employer for discussing her wages with another employee. In this case, the employer discharged the employee for violating a company policy that forbade employees from sharing such information. The NLRB found the company’s policy unlawful because discussing wages with a co-worker is protected activity under federal law.
The webpage informs users that “[w]hether or not concerted activity is protected depends on the facts of the case,” and it provides a phone number of an information officer who will advise the caller as to whether specific workplace conduct constitutes protected activity under federal law.
What this means to you
Through its new webpage, the NLRB is obviously seeking to make it easier for workers to find out whether they have been unlawfully disciplined by their employers for engaging in protected, concerted activity, and, if so, file a complaint against their employer with the NLRB. Employers should peruse the webpage and be aware of the information that the labor agency is providing to employees. Employers concerned about their policies should work with counsel to modify such policies rather than wait to react to an employee’s complaint. In addition, employers with unionized workforces must also be aware that, in addition to filing grievances, their employees may file complaints with the NLRB. The agency’s recent statements regarding unlawful employer policies – combined with its new webpage – demonstrate that the NLRB is clearly seeking to take a more active role in everyday workplace issues. Employers are encouraged to be aware of the NLRB’s recent initiatives and be proactive in response.