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NLRB Decision Reminds ALL Employers to Be Wary of Violating Employees’ Section 7 Rights

Volume 5, Issue 5
May 9, 2006

The National Labor Relations Board's ("Board") decision in Griffin d/b/a/ North Carolina License Plate Agency #18, 346 N.L.R.B. No. 30 (2006) serves as an important reminder to all employers, even those without unions, that Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA") protects the rights of all employees to engage in "other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection." Section 7 has historically been interpreted broadly by the Board to protect concerted employee activity unrelated to and independent of union organization. Given the recent protests over immigrant rights, the Griffin case presents an opportunity to review the scope of protected Section 7 conduct.

In Griffin, three employees of a vehicle registration and license plate service were discharged after they made several complaints about their terms and conditions of employment. Recognizing that Section 7 of the NLRA protects employees from retaliation when they seek to improve "their lot as employees," the Board found that the employees engaged in protected concerted activity when they met with their manager to complain about favoritism, wages, and bonuses as well as when they later told her that they were considering filing a complaint about such matters with the State Department of Motor Vehicles, for which the employer was a contractor. The Board concluded that the terminations were retaliatory because the employees were fired immediately following their threat to file a complaint and the employer cited the employees' complaints as a reason for the terminations in an unemployment document.

As Griffin demonstrates, employees are protected from retaliation under the NLRA when they submit complaints, reports, suggestions, demands or criticisms of their employer to management or to third parties (such as administrative agencies, the legislature, or the public), provided that the activity is "concerted" and designed to improve their status as employees. While the term "concerted" generally means activity taken by two or more employees, the Board has also protected an individual employee's efforts if the employee is acting on behalf of others. Moreover, employees are not required to expressly communicate their cause or protest, and their conduct need not be formal. Mere talk among employees will be protected, but it must relate to a group action; griping about a term or condition of employment does not constitute protected concerted activity if there is no inclination to "do something about it."

All employers should be careful to ensure that discipline or other adverse action is not being taken because of employee conduct which could constitute protected concerted activity under Section 7. Employers should be especially wary of Section 7 conduct in relation to the recent immigration protests, as employee conduct in support of such causes can be construed to relate to improving terms and conditions of employment. For an article containing more information on Section 7 rights, please contact our office.

Employer Report articles are for general information only; they are not intended and should not be construed to be legal advice. Reading or replying to such articles does not establish an attorney-client relationship. In addition, because the subject matters and applicable laws discussed in Employer Report articles are often in a state of change and not always applicable to every type of business entity or organization, readers should consult with counsel before making decisions based on the same.