Previously during the pandemic, Colorado passed a whistleblower law that protected complaints in the workplace regarding a public health emergency. By way of SB 22-097, Colorado expanded that protection to “any reasonable concern about workplace violations of government health or safety rules, or about an otherwise significant workplace threat to health or safety” that is raised in “good faith.”
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As noted in a previous post, the NLRB earlier held a company liable for its CEO’s personal tweet intended as an obvious joke. The NLRB had viewed as irrelevant the CEO’s and even the employees’ statements that the tweet was meant as a joke. On appeal, the Third Circuit, considering the CEO’s First Amendment rights, reversed the NLRB holding there was no evidence to support its finding that the tweet could have been interpreted as a threat by a reasonable employee, especially where two employees said they took it as a joke and the comment was made without any actual threatening action having been taken and without any history of labor-management tension.
For starters, FDRLST Media is a tiny media company. Its six employees (not including Domenech) are writers and editors. The tweet’s suggestion that these employees might be sent “back” to work in a “salt mine” is farcical. The image evoked—that of writers tapping away on laptops in dimly-lit mineshafts alongside salt deposits and workers swinging pickaxes—is as bizarre as it is comical. So from the words of the tweet alone, we cannot conclude that a reasonable FDRLST Media employee would view Domenech’s tweet as a
plausible threat of reprisal.
. . .
The National Labor Relations Act grants the National Labor Relations Board vast authority to investigate charges of unfair labor practices, even when charges are filed by parties who are not personally aggrieved by the alleged practice. But the Board’s authority to find an unfair labor practice is not unlimited. Here, the Board spent its resources investigating an online media company with seven employees because of a facetious and sarcastic tweet by the company’s executive officer. Because the Board lost the forest for the trees by failing to consider the tweet in context, it misconstrued a facetious remark as a true threat. We will accordingly grant FDRLST
Media’s petition, set aside the Board’s order, and deny the Board’s petition for enforcement.
https://l2slegal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/logo-orig.png00Bill C. Bergerhttps://l2slegal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/logo-orig.pngBill C. Berger2022-05-23 12:33:182022-05-23 12:33:18Third Circuit reverses NLRB over facetious tweet
Title VII is the nation’s leading anti-discrimination law. It also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who oppose unlawful acts such as discrimination. But what if the employee is opposing an act that isn’t actually unlawful discrimination? What constitutes an unlawful discriminatory act prohibited by Title VII can be a surprisingly complicated legal issue.
In a recent case, titled Reznik v. inContact, Inc., the plaintiff sued for retaliation because, she claimed, she’d been retaliated against for opposing discrimination against foreigners who worked for the company in that other country (or as the Court said “aliens”). However, being a foreigner who works in a foreign country is not itself a protected class under Title VII. However, the Tenth Circuit held the plaintiff wasn’t required to prove she opposed an actual violation. Rather, the test is whether the employee both subjectively and objectively believed the practice was prohibited by Title VII. To prove her subjective believe, she needed to prove she herself really had believed it was prohibited by Title VII. To prove it was the objective element, she needed to prove that a reasonable employee would have thought it was prohibited by Title VII.
We adopt an objective reasonableness inquiry that considers the law against what a reasonable employee would believe, not “what a reasonable labor and employment attorney would believe.”
Because Title VII protects both “race” and “national origin,” a reasonable employee, the Tenth Circuit held, might think those protected classes include being a foreigner who works in a foreign country.
The decision drew a sharp dissent that would have held the company was entitled to rely on the clear language of Title VII, which does not protect foreigners working in a foreign country.
The statutory text of Title VII expressly excludes aliens abroad. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1(a). Thus, no employer reasonably would have understood that Title VII prohibited the conduct Plaintiff opposed. Measuring one employee’s subjective good-faith belief that Title VII prohibits an employer from making offensive comments about aliens abroad against the text of Title VII, which precludes application to aliens abroad, I would hold that Plaintiff lacked an objectively reasonable belief that Defendant’s conduct constituted unlawful discrimination and affirm the district court.
Because this distinction is both significant and poses a clear question of law that has not been addressed by the Supreme Court, it is the kind of issue that may, if appealed, draw either reconsideration by the full bench of the Tenth Circuit and/or review by the Supreme Court. Unless either occurs, the majority opinion stands as law in the Tenth Circuit.
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Interesting lunchtime read today for HR and labor-employment law professionals, in the New York Times. The article discusses the growing presence of non-union unions called “solidarity unions,” especially in the tech industry. These groups are simply informal associations of two or more workers in a workplace.
The article is a good reminder for employers that, if workers don’t feel they have a voice in the workplace, they will find a way to express and protect themselves, whether it means through a formal union or simply acting together to secure their goals.
As the article notes, such workers enjoy legal protections, indeed the National Labor Relations Act protects workers who act to further their wages, hours or working conditions, whether or not they do so through a union. Also protected are worker actions, with no union involved, involving two or more workers actin in concert with each other, or sometimes even, as a previous blog post noted, when a single worker acts on behalf of his colleagues.
The New York Times reports that “solidarity unions” are already present at Google, Kickstarter, Uber and other companies. Their proponents believe they hold several advantages over traditional organized unions: They do not need to be recognized through NLRB-sanctioned elections. They do not need the support of a majority of the workers. They do not need to, and generally do not, enter into collective bargaining type agreements. Rather they prefer not to have such agreements, instead hoping to keep the company “on its toes” by engaging in labor actions if and when the workers choose, for the reasons chosen by the workers.
https://l2slegal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/logo-orig.png00Bill C. Bergerhttps://l2slegal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/logo-orig.pngBill C. Berger2019-10-10 12:12:552019-10-10 12:12:55A union that isn’t a union? The New York Times on the growing presence of “solidarity unions”
In 2018, the Supreme Court rejected, in a decision titled Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, the argument that Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act’s protections for protected concerted activity somehow encompass a right to file class action and collective action lawsuits. There the Supreme Court held that, accordingly, employers can require pre-dispute arbitration agreements, even if it means such agreements block class and collective actions.
The Board recently was faced with a case on the issue and adopted the Supreme Court’s approach, restating that the NLRA does not bar arbitration agreements, even if they have that effect. In doing so, the NLRB clarified that employers are still prohibited from retaliating against employees who choose to act together by filing a class or collective action. “We reaffirm, however, longstanding precedent establishing that Section 8(a)(1) prohibits employers from disciplining or discharging employees for engaging in concerted legal activity, which includes filing a class or collective action with fellow employees over wages, hours, or other terms and conditions of employment.”
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Taking a cue from the longtime successful ad campaign, labor practitioners refer to a category of NLRB charges as so-called “Army of One” cases. The National Labor Relations Act protected only concerted activity, which generally means two or more people working together, to further their wages, hours and working conditions. In an Army of One case, that principle is extended to cover the protests of a single employee; the Army of One doctrine allows a single person, who doesn’t act in “concert” with anyone else, to assert a violation of the NLRA if he is acting on behalf of his colleauges.
In its 2011 decision WorldMark by Wyndham, the NLRB extended the Army of One doctrine to individual gripes that are asserted in a group setting. Before WorldMark, the Board had looked for actual evidence of “group activities” prior to the protest, such as evidence of an actual discussion between the workers discussing the complaint that the individual ended up lodging. In WorldMark the Board recognized the ability of a single individual to become an Army of One, i.e., to engage in NLRA-protected activities, by making a complaint in a group setting.
Now, the Board has reversed WorldMark. No longer is simply making a complaint in a group setting sufficient. Instead the Board identified five factors to be considered.
The fact that a statement is made at a meeting, in a group setting or with other employees present will not automatically make the statement concerted activity. Rather, to be concerted activity, an individual employee’s statement to a supervisor or manager must either bring a truly group complaint regarding a workplace issue to management’s attention, or the totality of the circumstances must support a reasonable inference that in making the statement, the employee was seeking to initiate, induce or prepare for group action. … (R)elevant factors that would tend to support drawing such an inference include that (1) the statement was made in an employee meeting called by the employer to announce a decision affecting wages, hours, or some other term or condition of employment; (2) the decision affects multiple employees attending the meeting; (3) the employee who speaks up in response to the announcement did so to protest or complain about the decision, not merely (as in WorldMark) to ask questions about how the decision has been or will be implemented; (4) the speaker protested or complained about the decision’s effect on the work force generally or some portion of the work force, not solely about its effect on the speaker him- or herself; and (5) the meeting presented the first opportunity employees had to address the decision, so that the speaker had no opportunity to discuss it with other employees beforehand.
Applying this approach to the facts of this case, the Board rejected an airport skycap’s claim that he’d engaged in Army of One protected activity when he said (to a customer), in the presence of his colleagues, that “we” had performed a certain task “and we didn’t receive a tip for it.” Even his use of “we” was held insufficient.
(I)ndividual griping does not qualify as concerted activity solely because it is carried out in the presence of other employees and a supervisor and includes the use of the first-person plural pronoun.
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