Photo of Stephanie Priel

Parties before the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or the “Board”) often wonder whether it is worthwhile to appeal adverse rulings or respond when favorable rulings are received. Two recent appellate court decisions demonstrate the value of sticking with an argument from start to finish.

A Winning Formula

First, in Davidson Hotel Company v. NLRB (D.C. Cir. 2020), the D.C. Circuit recently took the highly unusual step of rejecting an NLRB determination as to the appropriate unit for bargaining at a small, full-service hotel in Chicago. For context, the NLRB had determined that the Davidson Hotel’s employees should be segregated into three separate bargaining units: a unit of front desk employees, a unit of housekeeping employees, and a unit of food and beverage employees. The union petitioned the Board to certify a single unit of housekeeping employees and food and beverage employees.

The Board’s Regional Director decided that a unit consisting of the housekeeping and the food and beverage employees was not an appropriate unit because it did not include the front desk employees, and he dismissed the union’s petition for an election. The Regional Director reached his decision by applying the NLRB’s “community of interest” test, under which the NLRB examines: (1) whether employees in the proposed unit have sufficient commonality in working conditions and job duties (among other factors) such that bargaining as a collective group is possible; and (2) whether employees in the unit have such distinctive interests from those who are excluded-here, the front desk employees-such that they should bargain separately. In his order dismissing the union’s initial petition for a single bargaining unit of housekeeping and food and beverage employees, the Regional Director decided that the unit did not have distinctive interests from the front desk workers, but he hinted that two separate units (one for housekeeping and another for food and beverage) might be appropriate.

Following his cue, the union promptly filed two petitions seeking one election in the housekeeping unit and a second election in the food and beverage service unit. Again, the union did not seek to represent the front desk employees. This time, the Regional Director found that the community of interest test was satisfied and he certified the two units. When an election was held, the union prevailed in both units.


Continue Reading A Tale of Two Appeals: Recent Appellate NLRB Decisions Show the Value of Sticking with an Argument

The “days of boys will be boys” must end, said Circuit Judge Brown in Consolidated Communications, Inc. v. NLRB, 837 F.3d 1, 18 (D.C. Cir. 2016), a case involving strike misconduct. Heeding her directive, on July 21, 2020, the three grown “boys” at the NLRB decided that profane outbursts occurring during otherwise protected activities could be cause for termination. General Motors LLC, 369 NLRB No. 127 (2020). In the past, the NLRB has allowed some leeway for impulsive behavior of an employee when such misconduct is part of the “res gestae” of an employee’s protected activity. See, e.g., KHRG Employer LLC, 366 NLRB No. 22 (2018) (setting forth relevant test). But no more. Now, special rules will not apply to employees who violate an employer’s otherwise lawful rule mandating civility in the workplace just because the violation was part of the res gestae of a protected activity. This is good news for front line supervisors and managers who had to endure abusive conduct solely because it occurred during a labor-management meeting or in some other form of protected concerted activity.

Continue Reading NLRB Says, “#*!%@*” Could Get You Fired

On June 23, 2020, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) ruled that newly-represented employees can be disciplined under existing disciplinary policies even if no bargaining has occurred. 800 River Road Operating Company, Inc., 369 NLRB No. 109 (2020). For the first eighty years of the National Labor Relation Act’s existence, this had been the law of the land. A surprise decision four years ago in Total Security Management Illinois, 364 NLRB No. 106 (2016), upended this rule by requiring an employer to bargain with its employees’ newly certified representative (union) before “serious” discipline could be imposed. The 800 River Road decision returned an employer’s bargaining obligation to that historical and long-standing status – discipline consistent with an existing disciplinary policy is permissible even if the employer has not bargained about the discipline with the employees’ representative. The 800 River Road decision places a premium on well-crafted employee handbooks and disciplinary policies and a solid record retention policy to demonstrate the employer’s record of enforcement.

The decision is only the most recent decision in the long-running debate over the proper interpretation and application of the unilateral change doctrine enunciated by the Supreme Court in NLRB v. Katz, 363 U.S. 736 (1962). In Katz, the Court held that upon commencement of a bargaining relationship, employers “are required to refrain from making a material change regarding any [mandatory] term or condition of …employment…unless notice [of the change] and an opportunity to bargain is provided to the union.” (Slip op.3). Immediately following this sweeping generalized holding, employers ceased providing annual wage increases under existing compensation policies. The NLRB responded by creating the “dynamic status quo” policy. The dynamic status quo exemption to the Katz rule is applied when an employer’s practice or the policy itself becomes a term or condition of employment.


Continue Reading Order Restored, No Duty to Bargain Before Employee Disciplined

Addressing union organizing in the workplace has bedeviled employers since the adoption of the National Labor Relations Act. The National Labor Relations Board has historically permitted employers to ban employees from soliciting co-workers during working time. No solicitation policies have been narrowed and refined over the years, as demonstrated by the Board’s holding in Essex International, Inc., 211 N.L.R.B. 749 (1974). Essex distinguished between policies that prohibit solicitation during “working time” (permissible) and those that prohibit solicitation during “working hours” (invalid).

In Wynn Las Vegas, LLC, 369 NLRB No. 91 issued last week, the NLRB broadened the definition of solicitation to include urging a co-worker to vote “yes.” The Wynn Las Vegas decision reverted to the Board’s traditional interpretation and acknowledged the NLRB’s failure to obtain court approval for its narrower meaning.


Continue Reading NLRB Broadens Definition of “Solicitation,” Expanding Conduct That May Be Deemed Unprotected

Layoffs, reduced schedules, sick leave, and telecommuting—these are just a few of the issues that employers are navigating as they quickly adapt to the effects of the global pandemic. While moving full speed seems to be the only way to keep up with the rapidly-evolving landscape, companies should take a moment to ensure that they

Today California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a landmark bill making it more difficult for companies to engage independent contractors. (See our previous coverage HERE.) Assembly Bill 5 “will help reduce worker misclassification — workers being wrongly classified as ‘independent contractors’ rather than employees, which erodes basic worker protections like the minimum wage, paid sick days and health insurance benefits,” Newsom wrote in a statement.

Continue Reading The Controversial ABC Test From Dynamex Is Codified In Law — California’s Gig Economy Braces For Change

The NLRB recently determined that merely discrediting an employer’s justification for a union activist’s termination (a pretext finding) could be insufficient to demonstrate the termination was unlawful. Electrolux Home Products, 368 NLRB No. 34 (2019). This outcome was preordained by the NLRB’s decision in Wright Line, 251 NLRB 1083 (1980) and was reinforced as an acceptable legal analysis by the Supreme Court in a decision under Title VII, St. Mary’s Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 US 502 (1993). The logic of the rule found its voice in ABF Freight Systems v. NLRB, 510 US 317 (1994) in which the Court determined it was permissible for the NLRB to order the reinstatement of an employee even after the employee lied under oath during the NLRB hearing, as to do otherwise, would “distract the Board” with collateral credibility disputes.

Continue Reading NLRB Holds Pretext Finding Standing Alone Insufficient

On July 22, 2019, a three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit withdrew its holding that Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court—the landmark California Supreme Court decision that makes it harder for companies to rely on independent contractors—applies retroactively. The panel held instead that the question should be decided by the state’s highest court.

Continue Reading Scratch That: The ABC Test Might Not Apply Retroactively

On July 10, 2019, the California Senate Labor Committee voted in favor of Assembly Bill (AB 5). As we previously reported (see HERE), AB 5 would make it harder for companies to rely on independent contractors because it presumes a worker is an employee unless a hiring entity passes a difficult three-part test. Supporters

Beginning in 2020, Nevada and New York City will restrict an employer’s ability to screen job applicants for marijuana use. As marijuana legalization spreads across the country, other jurisdictions will likely follow suit. Employers, especially those that recruit in Nevada and NYC, should review their drug testing and hiring practices now to stay compliant.

What it means for you

Marijuana use by employees is for the first time protected in some jurisdictions, increasing the risk of discrimination claims by applicants and employees. Employers that hire in Nevada and NYC should consider whether their current recruitment and hiring practices may unlawfully discriminate by screening out applicants who have used marijuana. Here is an overview of the new laws:


Continue Reading High Times Ahead: New Laws Restrict Marijuana Drug Testing In Recruiting + Hiring