The National Labor Relations Board (the “NLRB” or “Board”) is a federal agency that oversees and protects an employee’s union activity and employee rights. The NLRB investigates unfair labor practice complaints made against both employers and unions, typically via employee or union member complaints. As an employer it’s important to understand your organizations legal rights and limitations to avoid costly penalties and litigation brought forth by the NLRB.
The NLRB was formed in 1935 to help enforce the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which was enacted that same year. The NLRA is a law that allows employees to join together and participate in protected concerted activities such as protests and strikes, with or without a union. The NLRB is a five-member group that decides whether labor practice violations have occurred. Since its inception, the NLRA has been amended by the government. For example, in 1974, the NLRB made changes to protect workers in nonprofit health care centers as long as the labor disputes would not affect patient needs. Previously, these employees of the nonprofit health care centers had not been covered under the NLRA due to concerns over patient welfare.
The NLRB’s duties include the following:
- Investigating unfair labor practice claims.
- Negotiating settlements between employees and employers.
- Enforcing orders.
- Assisting employees in conducting union elections.
- Creating and modifying NLRA rules.
- Ensures employers do not discriminate against employees for joining unions or trying to bargain for better pay and/or working conditions.
It is important for business owners and managers to understand whether or not their organization falls under NLRA jurisdiction. Employees who work for private-sector business, particularly one involved in interstate commerce, are likely protected by the NLRB. This includes most manufacturing, retail and health care organizations, as well as private universities. Many believe that due to the fact their business does not employ workers who are represented by a union that the NLRA does not apply. This is not true. Employers are encouraged to consult with legal counsel to determine if there are federal, state or local laws which would exempt their organization from the Act.
If an employee feels that they are working in unfair conditions, or feel that they have been discriminated against, they may file a complaint with the NLRB. An employee who files a complaint with the NLRB against their employer or union has no obligations to notify their employer or union that they are doing so. The complaint process within the NRLB is as follows:
- Filing charges: Filing charges against the organization or union within six months of the incident with a regional NLRB office.
- Investigating the claim: The regional director will investigate the claim by conducting interviews and gathering evidence. It typically takes seven to 14 weeks to receive a decision.
- Going to a hearing: If the NLRB believes a violation exists, the case will go before one of the board’s approximately 40 administrative law judges for a hearing.
- Reviewing the decision: The board receives the judge’s documentation and reviews the decision.
- Enforcing orders: Based on the outcome, the court might enforce orders that the opposing party (e.g., the employer or union) must obey.
- Turning to the Court of Appeals: If the employer or union does not want to follow those orders, the NLRB can take the case to the Court of Appeals and, in some scenarios, the U.S. Supreme Court.
Due to the fact that the complaint process can be a long and arduous process, many cases are dropped, or result in settlements before the NLRB makes a decision. The NLRB makes every effort to ensure that a settlement takes place rather than going to court.
In summary, the NLRB oversees and protects union activity and employee rights. In addition, the NLRB investigates unfair labor practice complaints made against employers and unions. The NLRB is an important federal agency for organizations and their leaders to pay attention to in order to understand their organizations legal rights and limitations to avoid costly penalties and litigation brought forth by the NLRB.
Written by: Patrick McKenna, SHRM-CP
Source: The National Labor Relations Board website at www.nlrb.gov.