You’re folding T-shirts at your retail job when a coworker approaches you. They ask what you make hourly because they think they’re being underpaid. As you tell them, a manager overhears, and later, you’re written up for discussing confidential information.
This is a familiar scene to so many — but it’s illegal and a violation of your federal rights. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) guarantees private-sector workers the right to engage in concerted activity. Concerted activity is two or more co-workers coming together to discuss issues and advocate for changes in the workplace.
Regardless of your union status, the NLRA protects these acts, which means you may engage in them without fear of retaliation from your employer. Retaliation includes harassment, threats, schedule changes, demotion, or termination.
What is protected concerted activity?
These concerted activities are protected under the NLRA.
Discussing wages, benefits, and working conditions with your coworkers
You have a right to share information and discuss issues at your job with your coworkers. Online communication is also protected, so long as it serves a purpose beyond general complaining. This does not extend to harassment or abusive language directed towards your boss or company.
Circulating a petition to advocate for changes in the workplace or union representation
You have a right to petition your boss for better working conditions. If coworkers are reticent about putting their names on a petition, let them know that signing the petition is also a concerted activity, which makes them protected from retaliation. If you petition your coworkers about union representation and you receive 30% support, you are entitled to hold a union election.
Addressing your boss with your concerns
You have a legal right to join together to approach your boss about your concerns, from dangerous conditions down to scheduling concerns. This activity is protected whether it’s done by a group or by one person acting on behalf of a group.
Addressing a government agency with your concerns
You have a right to report unsafe or illegal working conditions to a government agency. This could mean submitting a health and safety complaint to OSHA, or a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board, if you believe any of these NLRA rights have been violated.
Addressing the media with your concerns
You have a right to speak to members of the press about your workplace concerns, so long as you are not disclosing security information. Posting on social media with your concerns is also a legally protected right, but it doesn’t include extend to knowingly disseminating false statements about your employer or public disparagement online.
Refusing to work in unsafe conditions
You and your coworkers have the right to perform a concerted refusal to work in unsafe conditions. This includes organized demonstrations like strikes. You don’t need any legal or scientific proof that your conditions are unsafe either — just a “reasonable and honest belief.” If you have a no-strike clause in your contract, however, you will need proof that your working conditions are abnormally dangerous.
Who is not covered by the NLRA?
The NLRA may not cover public-sector employees, domestic workers, and independent contractors depending on the terms of their employment. Certain states have extended protection for different industries, so research local laws.
As a worker, it’s important to arm yourself with knowledge of your rights and how you can properly exercise them. If you think your rights have been violated by your employer, you can file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board or talk to an EWOC organizer today to get help winning the changes you want to see at work.