If you’ve spent any time searching online for answers to your HR questions, you’ve likely come across references to Section 7 rights. So what are they?
Let’s start with an example:
Imagine you find out that some of your employees are communicating with each other about their pay differences, employment classifications, and other work-related issues. You’re worried these employees might ask for raises or complain about their workload, and you might feel inclined to forbid these discussions in the workplace and on social media.
Not so fast. As an employer, you should be extremely cautious before restricting this behavior or pursuing disciplinary action. That’s because employees are protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which grants them the rights to organize and engage in protected group activity. These rights are described in Section 7 of the Act. The exact language in Section 7:
“Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all of such activities except to the extent that such right may be affected by an agreement requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment.”
What does this mean in layman’s terms? The right to organize or unionize is pretty straightforward, so we’ll focus on the other piece: concerted activity. Generally, this refers to the activities of employees acting as a group -- in concert -- for mutual aid or protection. It is also the activity of individual employees seeking to initiate, induce, or prepare for group action aimed toward the employer (e.g., activity regarding wages, hours, working conditions, and other terms and conditions of employment).
How do you know whether a particular activity is concerted? The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has a two-step test.
- The employee (or employees) must be engaging in the activity with, or on the authority of, other employees—a discussion between employees about their pay and working conditions, for example.
- The employer must know about the employee’s activity and have a reason to know that it’s concerted.
Be aware that the NLRA’s safeguards for “protected concerted activity” apply not only to face-to-face conversations and handwritten correspondence, but also to electronic communication between employees, including emails, texts, blogs, and social media postings. You should therefore be extremely cautious when considering disciplining an employee for communicating with other employees about work issues, whether the communication happens electronically or face-to-face.
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