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ANALYSIS: How Employers Are Botching Workers’ Covid-19 Concerns

Sept. 21, 2020, 8:30 PM

Lawyers tasked with handling labor relations amid the chaos of a global health crisis are getting a chance to see how certain employer responses to workers’ safety concerns are not sitting well with the NLRB attorneys who investigate workers’ Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges.

A memo released last week by the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel outlined four such ULP complaints in which the GC’s office found enough merit to proceed:

—A food delivery company fired an employee who led a sickout to pressure the company to provide more PPE to its workers—but let almost all of the other employees return to work.

—A health care provider, upon receiving a letter from workers requesting more input in pandemic-related patient care issues, gave one of the writers the Hobson’s choice of either promising to discuss concerns only with management or resigning.

—A casino manager questioned and disciplined an employee who wore a face mask in front of guests, ignoring the employee’s request for union representation during the inquiry.

—A nursing home operator, citing complications caused by the pandemic, refused to discuss union workers’ proposal for hazard pay for workers, or even respond to union email messages for two months.

It’s worth mentioning that these examples make up a tiny slice of the 6,000-plus ULP charges against employers that the NLRB has received since the pandemic began: an influx that, except for a modest dip in March through May, has stayed remarkably constant all year.

The wording of the memo suggests that only nine Covid-related complaints have been given a green light so far; the document also includes a link to 12 Covid-related cases that were dismissed in recent months. So even within this small subset, employers potentially running afoul of the NLRB remain in the minority.

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