It’s no secret that the National Labor Relations Act scares human resources personnel at non-union companies. Not that the possibility of a union is scary; rather, the rules under the NLRA can seem so foreign at times.  Indeed, many of the policies, procedures or practices that an employer may have huge implications, even in a union-free environment.

Fellow blogger Michael Moore, of the Pennsylvania Employment Law Blog has a great post today about Five Things Every HR Generalist Should Know about the NLRA.  Since the NLRA has been around forever, much of what Michael advises isn’t necessarily "new" but it’s neatly encapsulated with overall topic highlights.  Among two of the "issues" to spot:

  • Section 7 Rights: Nonunion employees may be protected from discipline or discharge by the NLRA. Section 7 of the NLRA gives all employees (union and nonunion) the right to engage in protected concerted activities which are usually group activities (two or more employees acting together) attempting to improve working conditions, such as wages and benefits. ….
  • Handbook Nonsolicitation Clauses: An employer may adopt a policy prohibiting solicitation and distribution of literature during working time and in work areas so long as the rule is (a) unambiguous with regard to the definitions of work time and work areas, (b) promulgated in advance of organizing activities, (c) not applied for the first time to known union adherent, and (d) uniformly applied to union and nonunion solicitations….

Why do I highlight these? Because the most common misperception among HR Generalists is that if there isn’t already an union at the employer, they don’t have to worry about the NLRA. But as the above recap shows, there are still plenty of NLRA issues to spot in such circumstances.

Still skeptical? Here’s one example:

  • Employees at Company X regularly ask their fellow co-workers to buy Girl Scout cookies and wrapping paper to support their children’s activities.   A few months later, Company X learns that some employees are handing out leaflets about improving working conditions and the availability of bathroom breaks for their workers.  The leaflets ask the employees to come to a meeting during lunch.  Company X now wants to tell its employees to stop the solicitation. What’s the result?  Should be fairly obvious from the issues discussed above;  The employer is going to have some issues regarding its non-solitication policies and interfering with employees’ Section 7 rights. 

The lesson from this example is not to stop buying Girl Scout cookies; but it’s to think about the implications of decisions made now for the future. if an employer is not consistently enforcing its rules for all employees, it will have a difficult time trying to enforce those rules when they might implicate the NLRA.