In a decision issued last week (here), the National Labor Relations Board ruled that “the filing of an employment-related class or collective action by an individual employee is an attempt to initiate, to induce, or to prepare for group action and is therefore conduct protected by Section 7 [of the National Labor Relations Act].” So, for example, if you fire someone for filing a Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuit on behalf of himself and other similarly situated employees, then you’ve violated both the FLSA and the NLRA.
Yes, if an employer actually retaliates in that manner, shame on the company. However, two things pique my interest here:
- An administrative law judge concluded that the employee was fired because he filed a FLSA collective action. By this time, in the federal court action, the parties had barely scratched the surface on taking discovery and the federal court had yet to certify a class. (Ultimately, the FLSA action was settled amicably in federal court, without any finding of liability).
- This decision could prove incredibly broad. For example, how about an employee who claims that he was fired for participating as a witness in a workplace investigation of discrimination, or because he cooperated with the EEOC? Indeed, a logical extension of lask week’s NLRB decision is that the witness’s involvement implicates the terms and conditions of employment for at least two other employees, the victim and the alleged harasser. That sounds like Section 7 activity.
Obviously, the easy solution is don’t discriminate and don’t retaliate. But, lawsuits are based on a series of allegations. And, what percentage of employment lawsuits actually result in a finding of liability? Thus, even the appearance of wrongdoing may be enough for a second bite at the apple with an unfair labor practice charge decided by an Administrative Law Judge.