Labor Rights in the Carolinas
While organized labor may not have a strong presence in the Carolinas, non-union employees also have important labor rights that are all-too-often ignored. Federal law guarantees all employees the right to join together with coworkers in an effort to better their working conditions through the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The law calls this “protected,” “concerted activity.” Activity is “concerted” if it is engaged in with or on the authority of other employees—not solely by and on behalf of the employee himself or herself. It includes circumstances where a single employee seeks to initiate, induce, or prepare for group action, as well as where an employee brings a group complaint to the attention of management. Activity is “protected” if it concerns employees’ interests as employees. However, an employee engaged in otherwise protected, concerted activity may lose the Act’s protection through misconduct.
Strikes and union activity are only the most obvious form of protected, concerted activity. Joining together with one other employee to ask for a change in break policies or a raise is another form. “Liking” another employee’s Facebook post about a workplace issue is a less obvious, but just as protected, form of protected, concerted activity.
One common labor law violation in which employers in the Carolinas engage is prohibiting their employees from discussing their wages with other employees or the public. Overbearing confidentiality policies inhibit employees from engaging together to increase their wages or from publicizing other poor working conditions in a concerted effort to improve such conditions.
Employers in the Carolinas too often believe that they can do anything they want with their employees because North and South Carolina are “at-will” and “right to work” states. “At-will” means that employees can be terminated for any reason at all, so long as that reason is not illegal. But firing employees for engaging in protected, concerted activity is illegal and not subject to the at-will employment rule. “Right to Work” means that employees that do not belong to a union do not have to pay union dues. This state law has no bearing on an employee’s right to engage in protected, concerted activity.
Employers in the Carolinas often create rules that require their employees to be “civil” in the workplace and to not say anything negative about their employers. Both of these requirements violate the National Labor Relations Act. Management and labor rightfully disagree on many things in the workplace and the law does not require employees to be subservient and passive about their demands. Non-disparagement requirements can inhibit employees from telling the public about their unfavorable working conditions. This is illegal.
However, there are ways these rights can be lost if employees go too far. Herrmann and Murphy’s attorneys are experienced and knowledgeable about where these lines are and can assist employees considering such action decide how far they can go.
Employees who have been retaliated against for engaging in protected, concerted activity or those who feel they cannot engage in such action because of overbearing rules at work can file claims with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) within 180 days of the violation. Unlike some other administrative agencies, the NLRB investigates and prosecutes labor law violations vigorously and has the ability to order reinstatement, back pay, or require your employer to change how they do business.
If you believe your right to join together with your coworkers to better your working conditions has been violated or if you are considering engaging in some type fo job action, you should reach out for a consultation today.
Reach out for a consultation today.