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A Valuable Reminder About the Scope of the NLRA

The NLRB announced today that the Texas Dental Association has distributed $900,000 in back pay awards to two former employees who were fired in relation to a petition complaining of poor management and unfair treatment. According to the NLRB press release:

The case grew out of a meeting of employees in 2006 that resulted in a petition to delegates of the association, which represents more than 7,000 dentists in Texas. The petition, signed by 11 employees using aliases, asked for an outside investigation of management and working conditions at the association’s Austin headquarters.

The delegates declined to authorize an investigation, and the association director initiated an investigation that included a forensic study of office computers. One employee who had helped write the petition was fired after a fragment of it was found on his computer. The second employee, a supervisor who refused to divulge the names of employees involved in the petition, was also fired.

An Administrative Law Judge found the first employee was unlawfully fired for engaging in protected activity, and that the supervisor was fired for refusing to engage in unlawful activity by divulging the employees’ identities. The Judge’s ruling was upheld by the National Labor Relations Board in Washington.

The employer then appealed the NLRB decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the NLRB filed for enforcement of its decision. While the case was pending, the settlement was reached through the Board’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Program with Fifth Circuit mediation.

It is worth noting that there is no indication that any of the employees were in a union. The National Labor Relations Act protects all employees who engage in protected activity, which includes attempting to improve working conditions. Any steps to address employee conduct even arguably related to complaints about working conditions, pay or benefits should be considered in light of the employees’ NLRA protections.

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