The organizers of the Women’s March, which on January 21, 2017 drew an estimated three million participants worldwide, have announced that on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2017, they are planning a “General Strike: A Day Without a Woman.” Since full information is not yet available about this proposed strike, it is not yet clear whether participation in this event will be protected under U.S. employment and labor laws. A walk out in support of the event could be considered protected activity as enforced by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) if there is a sufficient nexus between employment-related concerns and the specific issues that are the subject of this political activity. The NLRB has authority to enforce violations of the National Labor Relations Act against both unionized and non-unionized employers.
When the motivation for political activity is a national political issue that you as the employer have no control over, such activity will not be protected and it is legally permissible for you to discipline an employee for a violation of well-established and neutrally applied employment policies. On the other hand, when employees leave work and withhold services as an economic tool in their own employment relationship, such activity is protected. The line between these two situations may be blurry. For instance, a few years ago McDonalds’ employees held a nationwide strike in support of raising the national minimum wage. Although the national minimum wage was part of the reason workers refused to work – and their employers had no control over the national wage – the employees’ own wages and work conditions were an inherent and primary motivator for their participation in the strike. Thus, the NLRB determined a sufficient nexus existed for a finding that the strike was protected activity; the NLRB thus filed complaints against several McDonalds challenging the disciplinary actions imposed on participating employees.
Although as stated above it is not yet clear whether involvement in this event will be protected, any action taken against an employee may be challenged through a complaint with the NLRB. If you anticipate your business will be impacted by the March 8 event, meet with your Ally Law member firm’s labor and employment law department to discuss legal and appropriate plans to accommodate or prepare disciplinary actions with regard to your employees’ participation. Preparing in advance for the event will save you the time and money involved in a possible employee complaint about any discipline you impose. For more information about Ally Law member firm services and outstanding lawyers, contact us at email@example.com.