The NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) found that an employer violated Section 7 of the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act) when it fired an employee for discussing job security with a coworker.
Here’s the story.
A vending machine route driver left work early one Friday without notifying management, which is a violation of company policy. That weekend, she noticed a local “help wanted” ad for a vending machine route driver. She assumed her company had placed the ad and that she was going to be fired.
When she returned to work the following Monday, she and another route driver discussed the ad. She asked her coworker if he thought the ad meant their company was going to fire someone, but the coworker thought she was implying he was going to be fired. The second driver went to the owners of the company and expressed his concern about losing his job.
The owner assured him he would not be fired and asked why he was worried. The other route driver mentioned his conversation about the help wanted ad. The company eventually fired the first driver – the one who ducked out of work on Friday – for gossiping and telling other employees he was going to be fired.
The NLRB Steps In
In a 2-1 majority ruling, the NLRB found that the driver’s termination violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) because discussion of job security concerns with her coworker were “inherently concerted” and therefore considered protected activity, even though there wasn’t any evidence that they were “engaged in with the express object of inducing group action.”
Conversations among employees are generally protected when they consider group action. However, the contemplation of group action is not required when the conversation is “inherently concerted.” Since job security discussions, like wages, are vital conditions of employment, the NLRB held that they are inherently concerted.
The company was ordered to reinstate the driver with full back pay.
Can Employees Talk About Their Pay?
Protected Concerted Activity and Section 7 of the NLRA
Section 7 of the NLRA protects employees who engage in concerted activity for the purpose of mutual aid or protection. Section 8 of that act makes it unlawful for an employer to “interfere with, restrain, or coerce” an employee for engaging in such activity.
What Does It Mean for Employers?
Determining whether employee activity is protected under the NLRA ultimately depends on the specific facts of each case. However, it is clear from recent NLRB rulings that taking corrective action based on work-related conversations among employees can lead to trouble with the NLRB.