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Can we ban nurses from wearing protest buttons—without violating the NLRA?

by on
in Employment Law,Human Resources

BY RALPH A. PETERSON and JOHN F. WINDHAM

Q. Some of the nurses at our hospital have started wearing union buttons that state, “Nurses Demand Safe Staffing.” If the hospital administrators ban the buttons, will the hospital have committed an unfair labor practice?

A.
Whether this ban constitutes an unfair labor practice that violates the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) depends on whether “special circumstances” exist and can be established by the hospital.

The types of evidence that can be used to prove “special circumstances” include:

  • Complaints from patients or their families that wearing the buttons was disruptive or caused a dialogue to take place with the nurses
  • Evidence from hospital officials showing that wearing buttons caused disruption or interfered with patient care or safety
  • Evidence that wearing the buttons caused a work stoppage or sit-down strike
  • Surveys of patients or their families showing that wearing the buttons interfered with patient care or safety.

If any of those scenarios exist, you can ban the buttons without committing an unfair labor practice.

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