A National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) administrative law judge recently ruled that Starbucks violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) by terminating an employee at its Ann Arbor location for engaging in union activism.
Enforced by the NLRB, the NLRA affords most private sector employees the right to participate in certain protected concerted activities to improve wages and working conditions, with or without a union. As noted by the NLRB website, examples of protected concerted activities include:
Employers who attempt to interfere with NLRA rights face potentially severe penalties, including liability for back pay. In the Starbucks case, the company was ordered to offer reinstatement and back pay to the fired employee, and to hold a meeting to inform employees about the ruling that the company violated the law.
In light of the NLRA, employers should ensure that their employee handbooks do not infringe upon employee rights to engage in protected concerted activities. Additionally, supervisors should be trained on how to distinguish those actions from otherwise punishable disciplinary infractions.
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