A new court ruling offers more reason to remind your supervisors to discipline employees based on objective work-based standards. Never punish employees for discussing compensation or job conditions with their co-workers, and avoid labeling them with lawsuit-triggering phrases such as "troublemaker" and "not a team player."
Even in nonunion workplaces, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) makes it illegal to punish workers for complaining about pay or working conditions. That's because the law gives all workers the right to engage in "concerted activities ... for the purpose of mutual aid and protection." That's not limited to union-organizing efforts. It can simply involve two employees comparing their paychecks.
Recent case: Soon after Christopher Hayward began complaining about the way he and other consultants were paid, he was fired. His nonunion employer said the firing was because Hayward was a "troublemaker" and not a team player. Still, Hayward filed a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaint, saying the real reason was his "protected" wage complaints.
The NLRB sided with him and ordered his reinstatement. The company appealed, but a court concluded the company fired Hayward for his protected "concerted activities." (Citizens Investment Services Corporation v. NLRB, No. 04-1317, CD Ct. Appeals 2005)
Outlook: If this decision stands, look for more employees to file NLRB complaints when they don't otherwise fall into a traditional protected class based on sex, age, race, disability, religion or national origin. While NLRB cases typically deal with blue-collar workers, this case shows how more white-collar workers may see the NLRB as a natural ally for employees who have no other obvious way to sue.