Issue: Punishing workers for protesting work conditions could constitute "unfair labor practices", even if your work force isn't unionized.
Risk: Defending an NLRA claim is costly, and you could have to rehire people who've been fired.
Action: Check with an employment lawyer before acting against employees who collectively protest work conditions or pay.
Tell your managers to stop and think before they lash out against employees who collectively protest pay or other work-related issues. Reason: A manager's wrong move could inadvertently open your organization to an "unfair labor practices" charge under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
The big misconception: NLRA applies only to unionized organizations. Not so. The law protects U.S. employees' right to engage in "concerted activities" to further their own wages, hours and conditions, no matter where they work.
Recent case: At a 30-employee nonunion machine shop, six workers walked off the job. They met with the company president to air three complaints about their supervisor: 1) He ignored on-the-job sexual harassment. 2) He didn't know how to operate the machines. 3) He failed to deal with an employee's drug problem. The president responded by firing all six workers.
The National Labor Relations Board ruled that the company committed an unfair labor practice, saying that the group walkout amounted to a protected "concerted activity" by the employees. Thus, the company violated NLRA by firing them. A federal appeals court agreed. (Trompler Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board, Nos. 01-3606, 01-3987, 7th Cir., 2003)
Resource: For more on NLRA responsibilities, go to www.nlrb.gov/publicat.html.