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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

It is customary to read of employees claiming retaliation against their employer. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit’s recent decision in Bator v. District Council 4, Graphic Communications Conference represents the almost unheard of — employees claiming retaliation at the hands of their union instead.

In Bator, union members simply wanted

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

On June 15, 2020, the US Supreme Court changed the face of federal workplace anti-discrimination laws. In Bostock v. Clayton County, the Court ruled that Title VII’s prohibition against job discrimination on the basis of “sex” includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Though Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has long-prohibited employers from discriminating on the basis of color, national origin, race, religion, and sex, the question of whether sexual orientation and gender identity were included in the definition of “sex” went unsettled — until now.

“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court in the 6-3 opinion. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.” Justice Gorsuch and fellow conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joined liberal Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor in the majority.


Continue Reading Support for LGBTQ Rights, with a Signal for Religious Liberty: What Does Bostock Actually Mean for Employers?

We hope you have found our video chat series helpful and informative. We are continuing this series of quick and bite-sized video chats, where our employment partners team up with practitioners in various areas of law to discuss the most pressing issues for employers navigating the return to work. Each 15-minute Q&A session offers targeted

Last week the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a National Labor Relations Board’s decision involving Weingarten rights, the application of its Wright-Line analysis, and a witness credibility determination. These core principles are no doubt headliners of the NLRB’s Big Top. In one fell swoop, the lion bit the lion tamer, the elephant tossed the mahout, and the trapeze artist lost his grip and came crashing down. Circus Circus Casinos, Inc., v NLRB, No. 18-1201 (June 12, 2020). This is the second recent decision tightening the Wright-Line analysis and will likely result in fewer discharged employees being reinstated. See our August 2019 Alert. “NLRB Holds Pretext Finding Standing Alone Insufficient.”

Continue Reading NLRB Tumbles From High-Wire in Circus Circus Dispute

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing companies to re-examine their work from home or remote work policies. There is no one size fits all plan. Many companies have moved rapidly to a remote workforce during the pandemic, often with employees relocating to (or been stranded in) locations outside of their normal worksites. For some, remote work

On June 11 and June 17, 2020, the EEOC updated “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” its Q&A technical assistance guidance for COVID-19 related issues. The new guidance expands its previous guidance, answering additional questions on several topics, including COVID-19 antibody tests, “high risk” employees (which we blogged about here), accommodations for employee screenings, how to handle national origin discrimination, and whether an employer’s safety concerns permit the exclusion of pregnant or older people from the workplace. We have summarized the new Q&A below.

Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Exams

A.7. CDC said in its Interim Guidelines that antibody test results “should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace.” In light of this CDC guidance, under the ADA may an employer require antibody testing before permitting employees to re-enter the workplace?

No. An antibody test constitutes a medical examination under the ADA. In light of CDC’s Interim Guidelines that antibody test results “should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace,” an antibody test at this time does not meet the ADA’s “job related and consistent with business necessity” standard for medical examinations or inquiries for current employees. Therefore, requiring antibody testing before allowing employees to re-enter the workplace is not allowed under the ADA. Please note that an antibody test is different from a test to determine if someone has an active case of COVID-19 (i.e., a viral test). The EEOC has already stated that COVID-19 viral tests are permissible under the ADA.

The EEOC will continue to closely monitor CDC’s recommendations, and could update this discussion in response to changes in CDC’s recommendations.


Continue Reading More on the Return to Work: the EEOC Issues New COVID-19 Related Guidance