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National Labor Relations Act
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National Labor Relations Act

Jeffrey L. Roth, JD

In this edition of Matters of Law we will discuss obligations under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) and the ability of the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) to penalize your practice as a result of unfair labor practice complaints by your employees.

WHAT? There are no union employees in my practice! How does that federal law apply to my practice? Well, there does not have to be a union, and the law applies to all but the very smallest of practices, since the NLRB will exercise jurisdiction over any non-retail establishment that purchases at least $50,000 worth of the supplies directly or indirectly outside the state. One D.V.M. in Texas found out the hard way.

Two employees of the Texas practice together complained to the practice manager that the D.V.M./owner of the practice was engaged in favoritism toward another employee and complained about wages, hours, and working conditions at the practice. The practice then orally promulgated a rule that prohibited employees from discussing wages and other terms and conditions of employment. Days later, the two complaining employees were discharged.

The employees complained to the NLRB, and the NLRB ruled that the practice had engaged in unfair labor practices and awarded the employees reinstatement, back pay (with interest), and made the practice post a notice to all employees regarding the violation and the remedies provided.

This action stems from the rights of employees under the NLRA to engage in "concerted activity" (as 2 employees were involved, not one) regarding discussions with the employer regarding wages and other terms and conditions of employment. Employers may not retaliate against employees for being engaged in such "concerted activity" under the NLRA. This is one of the exceptions to the "at will” status of an employee in Alabama. Terminating the employees violated this provision, as the NLRB believed that the reason for the discharge was directly related to the "concerted activity."

Had the practice manager spoken to the employees individually, rather than together, there would be no "concerted activity," and therefore, no unfair labor practice. Also, if evidence indicated that the employees were terminated for a reason other than engaging in the "concerted activity," there would have been no liability to the practice.

This decision was published March 31 of this year, and can be found at:
http://www.nlrb.gov.

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