by Adam C. Abrahms

Continuing its effort to “outreach” to non-union employees and educate them on their rights under the National Labor Relations Act, the NLRB has launched a new webpage on Concerted Activity.  The NLRB’s announcement  of its new webpage made clear the page is designed to inform employees of their rights “even if they are not in a union.”

The webpage, in addition to giving basic descriptions of concerted activities, asserts that “The law we enforce gives employees the right to act together to try to improve their pay and working conditions or fix job-related problems, even if they aren’t in a union.”  The main feature of the webpage is an interactive map of the United States which highlights cases from various regions as examples of the Board’s activities on behalf of non-union employees who were engaged in activity the Board considers protected even though it is unrelated to union organizing.  Examples include cases involving employees complaining about safety issues, employees posting statements on Facebook and videos on YouTube critical of the employer, employees discussing workplace issues with the news media, employees “violating” an employer handbook’s unlawful confidentiality policy and employees  signing letters to management complaining about wage cuts.

The new webpage is part of the NLRB’s concentrated effort to inform non-union employees of the rights protected by the Act and the availability of the agency as a resource to employees who feel they had their rights violated.  This new webpage should be viewed in the same vein as the Board’s parallel efforts to require all employers to post  a “Employee Rights Notice Posting,” print and distribute brochures and bring media attention to its aggressive pursuit of cases involving employers’ social media policies.  While the posting requirement has been enjoined by the U.S. Court of Appeals, the other more informal efforts of education and outreach like the webpage, brochures and media attention cannot be challenged and are likely to continue to expand.

In announcing the new webpage NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce made the agency’s goal clear, stating:

A right only has value when people know it exists…  We think the right to engage in protected concerted activity is one of the best kept secrets of the National Labor Relations Act, and more important than ever in these difficult economic times. Our hope is that other workers will see themselves in the cases we’ve selected and understand that they do have strength in numbers.

Given the NLRB’s continuing efforts, employers must be more mindful than ever that their policies and actions could be scrutinized by an aggressive National Labor Relations Board even if they do not have a union.  As the agency’s efforts continue, employers should expect more employees to be aware of their option to bring complaints to the Board for adjudication.  When employees do so, employers can also expect for the agency’s investigation to reach not only the specific incident involving the complaining employee but potentially the lawfulness of the employers’ general policies and procedures.  Either way, employers must consider whether their policies and actions impact or interfere with protected concerted activity even where there is no union present.