Non-Union Employee Complaints Can Trigger NLRA Liability

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            Non-union employers often fail to consider the implications of federal labor law when taking action against employees claiming to speak for co-workers. In a recent case decided by the Connecticut Superior Court, an employee who was terminated after raising complaints about employee morale was prevented from bringing a state law claim; however, her claim was found to be governed by the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). Hobson v. Mark Facey & Co., 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3303 (Nov. 3, 2006).

            The plaintiff, Melinda Hobson, was employed as a telemarketer at defendant’s Bristol, Connecticut office. Facing morale problems, the company formed an employee committee charged with surfacing morale issues and bringing them to management’s attention. It appointed Ms. Hobson to the committee. After serving on the committee for several months plaintiff met with management to discuss the concerns of several telemarketing employees. Within an hour of the meeting she was discharged. She subsequently sued the company for wrongful termination.

            The court dismissed her state complaint finding it was preempted by the NLRA because her termination stemmed from activities protected by the Act. Specifically, section 7 of the NLRA protects employees engaged in concerted activities for the purpose of mutual aid or protection. Section 8 of the Act goes on to make it an unfair labor practice for an employer to interfere with employees exercising their section 7 rights. Here, plaintiff brought group concerns to management’s attention and was then fired. As a result, the proper forum for her claim was the National Labor Relations Board, not state court.

            While the employer in this case escaped liability in the state action, the court’s ruling reinforces the concept that even non-union employers must be cognizant of the NLRA’s provisions when dealing with employees claiming to represent group interests. Such employees have rights similar to those belonging to unions, and improper handling of group complaints can lead to unfair labor practice charges being filed with the Board.

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