The vast majority of private sector employers in Iowa do not have a unionized workforce. Many employers (and employees for that matter) don’t understand that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) still applies to them. Section 7 of the NLRA grants employees the rights to engage in various kinds of “concerted activities” for the purpose of collective bargaining or “other mutual aid or protection.” Employers are often surprised to learn that conduct prohibited in their employee handbooks—things like discussing compensation among employees, posting notices in the break room, or using social media to complain about wages or working conditions—may actually be protected by section 7. Unfortunately, ignorance is seldom bliss, particularly if you find yourself the target of a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) unfair labor practice charge.
Although employees have had section 7 rights for decades, many non-union employers in Iowa never used to worry about the NLRB. That could and should change, given the agency’s more activist agenda in recent years. Two recent announcements in particular highlight the importance of becoming more educated about your rights (yes, employers have rights under the NLRA) and those of your employees, so as to avoid ending up at the wrong end of an expensive and time consuming investigation, or worse.
First, the NLRB’s Acting General Counsel recently released a report detailing its investigation into cases involving employer’s social media policies and employee’s use of social media. The report focuses on employee terminations related to Facebook postings, blogs, and Tweets, as well as social media policies generally that the Board contends are overly broad. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also issued a survey on the NLRB’s social media activity. Both of these reports are a must-read.
Second is the NLRB’s announcement of a new Rule requiring most private sector employers to post notices informing employees about their rights under the NLRA. The New York Labor and Employment Law Report has a good summary of the requirements. While there is some debate whether the NLRB has legal authority to require such postings, the rule nonetheless goes into effect November 14. Employers are encouraged to find out between now and then your rights and responsibilities under this new rule, and especially the consequences for failing to follow it.