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Nonunion shops: You can be liable for ‘unfair labor practices’

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

Before you lash out against workers who rise up against a pay issue or other working condition, stop yourself. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects employees' rights to engage in "concerted activities" to further their own wages, hours or conditions.

The big misconception: Companies often believe the NLRA applies only to unionized companies. Not so. The NLRA applies to any size union or nonunion shop. And, if your nonunion company fires employees who collectively protest workplace conditions, you could be hit with an "unfair labor practices" claim under the NLRA.

Recent case: At a 30-employee nonunion machine shop, six workers walked off the job. They met with the company president to present 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 the 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 protections and your responsibilities, go to www.nlrb.gov/publicat.html.

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