The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is the primary piece of legislation that protects employee rights to collectively discuss working conditions and to work together to negotiate for changes when needed. These rights are enforced by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
According to the NLRB website, “Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) in 1935 to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices, which can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses and the U.S. economy.”[i]
This act works to ensure that employees have adequate bargaining power to help ensure that working conditions are acceptable and employees continue to have the right to work together to effect change when required.
Employee Protections Afforded by the NLRA
Here are some of the primary protections for employees that come out of the NLRA:
- Employees have the right to discuss working conditions (including pay and any other aspect of the working environment) amongst themselves, regardless of whether they have a formal employee union in place.
- Employers need to be wary of policies that would appear to negate that right, such as overly restrictive social media restrictions or restrictions on what the employee is allowed to say about the organization.
- Employees have the right to unionize. This includes the right to meet with union organizers and create bargaining groups. They also have the right to dissolve such a union or to opt not to participate in such activities as they are ongoing.
- Employers should be sure not to actively discourage or interrupt such activities. While the employer is free to require the employees to remain working during work hours, they should not take steps to discourage any aspect of unionization.
- Employees—regardless of whether or not there is a union—have the right to work together to try to improve their working conditions. In legal terms under the NLRA, this is referred to as “concerted activity.”
In addition to protecting these rights and not obstructing these activities, employers also must post employee NLRA rights. There is a free NLRA poster for employers that must be displayed for employees to see.
Employers should not take any action that is seen as discouraging unionization, collective bargaining, or concerted activity. For example, it would be inappropriate to inquire about union opinions during the interview process, as this could be seen as discouraging protected activities.
Key Activities of the NLRB
The NLRB exists to enforce the NLRA. The main Board consists of five members appointed by the president (with Senate confirmation). Separate from the Board, there are also a lot of other positions related to the enforcement of the NLRA, including the General Counsel, various regional offices, and an entire group of judges who are all in place working to protect employee rights.
The NLRB assists in filing charges against employers that have been accused of violating employee rights under the NLRA. That said, the NLRB also assists in getting claims settled without resorting to lawsuits, when possible. They also work on investigations, including hearings and remedial actions required of employers.
Employers may want to consider occasionally auditing policies to ensure they are not overly restrictive of employee rights under the NLRA and also consider training all managers on this topic.
*This article does not constitute legal advice. Always consult legal counsel with specific questions.