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Your protections as an employee may be scaled back in 2019

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The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided on January 11 to limit the definition of activities protected under union labor laws in Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. Legal analysts fear that this could leave you and other employees vulnerable for dismissal if you voice complaints or protest unfair practices.

How does Section 7 protect employees?

Both union and non-union employees are protected against unfair treatment or dismissal under federal laws. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act details some of the protected employee rights:

  • Form, join or participate in labor organizations
  • Bargain collectively through a chosen representative
  • Engage in other concerted activities for collective bargaining or other mutual protections

For an activity to qualify under the third condition, it must meet both conditions. It must be coordinated and for the purposes of protecting a group of employees rather than an individual.

Why did the NLRB side with the employer not the employee?

In January, the NLRB supported employer Alstate Maintenance after an employee claimed the company unlawfully dismissed him for a protest he made during a company meeting. Alstate claimed they were within their rights because his protest was trying to initiate group action. The NLRB agreed that this individual's protest did not qualify as a protected act.

Although it took place at an official meeting with other employees and supervisors, and the individual used the word "we", the NLRB decided this, and other acts like it, are considered individual complaints and are not protected under the law. If a chosen representative brings a complaint in a formal setting, federal law protects it.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the NLRB also implied that it may overturn past rulings that fall along these lines. This could include discussions involving wages, schedules and job security. However, if the NLRB decides to change this, it would need to present significant justification in a court setting before it can act.

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