Many workers are concerned that banding together to improve labor conditions may prompt retaliation from their employer. However, many of these actions are legally protected through legislation and enforced by governmental agencies.
So how do you know what is actions are protected? And how can you make sure you are fairly treated in the workplace
What is Protected Concerted Activity?
Concerted activity is a legally protected class of actions when two or more workers act together to better their pay or working conditions. This activity can happen with or without a union, making it very common in the workplace.
Some examples of concerted activity would be:
- A group of employees speaking to each other about unsafe working conditions
- Two workers bringing up unequal pay to management
- An employee discussing workplace grievances on behalf of a larger group of co-workers
The act further protects groups of employees from filing complaints to government agencies or speaking to the media about workplace labor concerns. Knowing how this concerted activity is protected is essential to ensuring your rights are preserved.
How Concerted Activity is Protected
Concerted activity is clearly protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), a federal law that protects various employee rights in the workplace. Specifically, an employer is not permitted to fire, threaten, or take disciplinary action against you for concerted activity.
When an employee believes their right to concerted activity has been violated, they have the right to file a complaint will be investigated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). This federal agency is tasked with enforcing the NLRA and has regional offices across the country to facilitate this process. Often, complaints of unfair labor practices against employers will result in a settlement or court order to fix the violation highlighted by the complaint.
When is Concerted Activity not protected?
While concerted activity is widely protected, there are instances where your actions can remove the protections granted in the NLRA. Making knowingly false or deliberately offensive claims against your employer will not be protected. Further, publicly disparaging statements about your employer’s business are not covered by the NRLA unless they are connected to a specific labor dispute. In all cases, your complaints must be directly related to a labor controversy —like safety, pay, or benefits.
When Concerted Activity is Important
Concerted activity is fundamental to improving your working conditions. Working together is the most important way for employees to gain the bargaining power needed to shape company actions and policies. Here are some recent examples of protected concerted activity where the NLRB had to intervene:
- In a hotel in New Mexico, employees signed a letter of complaint protesting a wage cut. After the leaders of the effort were fired, the NLRB issued an order mandating back pay and re-hiring of affected employees.
- A farmworker in California raised concerns on behalf of his fellow employees and his employer then fired him. Upon filing a complaint with the NLRB, the worker's employer settled, providing back pay and an offer for his original job.
- A welder in Florida brought a petition to his employer complaining of poor living conditions on the job site. After he was fired, the NLRB stepped in, forcing the employer to pay lost wages.
Unfortunately, violations of protected concerted activity are all too common, so knowing your rights is essential for fair treatment.
Thinking about how to best protect your rights?
If you are interested in learning more about how you can best ensure economic and social justice in your workplace, you should consider ways to formalize your collective bargaining power. You are not alone, and there are many resources to help you get started today!