Veterans. Gays. Singles. Christians. New employees.
For years, employees with common interests or characteristics have been banding together in lunch or after-work groups—typically with their employers’ blessing and support.
These so-called affinity or support groups are a natural extension of workplace diversity and inclusion efforts, and it’s estimated that nearly 90% of Fortune 500 companies have them.
Their aim is, innocently enough, to facilitate networking and common interest among employee groups. Now, however, more employers are realizing the potential risks of supporting these groups:
Interference with labor organizations. Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), some employment attorneys warn that employers encouraging or sponsoring affinity groups might be seen as illegally “dominating” or “interfering” with a labor organization. That doesn’t automatically mean a union.
The NLRA broadly defines a “labor organization” to include virtually any type of group that “deals with” the employer concerning wages, hours and working conditions. This also applies to both union and nonunion employers.
Potential employment discrimination. Anti-discrimination laws forbid bias based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Because some groups are organized around such protected classifications, there’s a risk that company decisions could be discriminatory.
For example, Mellon Bank recently faced a legal fight after an employee was disciplined for his loud objections to the company’s gay and lesbian affinity group. (Shwartzberg v. Mellon Bank)
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