Employees have a right to voice concerns that their coworkers are being treated unfairly, according to a recent opinion from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Illinois. The case, Staffing Network Holdings, LLC v. NLRB, found that such statements cannot be subject to employee retaliation under the longstanding doctrine of protected concerted activity.
Protected concerted activity has been a part of the National Labor Relations Act since it was passed into law in 1935. Based on the First Amendment protection of free association, this right protects employees from retaliation if two or more employees engage in conduct with the intent of improving working conditions. It also protects conduct on the part of one employee who speaks up about the need to improve working conditions for himself, or on the behalf of other employees. Workers have a right to engage in protected concerted activity whether or not they belong to a union.
In the Staffing Network Holdings case, an employee was sent home from work for not working faster to fulfill an order of books. Other employees who witnessed this, began to tell management that it was unfair to send this worker home for not working faster. A second employee was sent home for speaking up on behalf of the first employee. He was later told not to return to work. Other employees were also threatened that they would be told to go home if they commented on behalf of the first employee.
The second employee then filed a complaint with the National Relations Board, alleging unfair labor practices. The administrative law judge found in his favor, ordering his employer to reinstate him and pay him for lost wages. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit upheld the decision of the administrative law judge in favor of the employee.
Despite arguments from the employer that because this was a staffing agency, the employee could still work for other clients, the Seventh Circuit found that the employee had been involuntarily separated from employment and was entitled to reinstatement. But perhaps most importantly, the court found that a brief work stoppage to engage in protected concerted activity is protected under the National Labor Relations Act. This decision now gives employees in Illinois a powerful tool to work together to improve unfair or unsafe working conditions without fear of retribution from employers. And it puts employers on notice that if they do retaliate against workers for protected concerted activity, they will be held accountable in the judicial system.
If you believe your employer is treating you and other workers unfairly, you and your coworkers have a right to speak up without fear of retribution. Courts have held again and again that such concerted activity is protected. If your employer has retaliated against your for such activity, an experienced Roselle employment discrimination attorney can help. Contact the Law Office of Michael T. Smith to speak with an attorney about your case.