Can You Legally Get Fired for Joining a Union?

Can You Legally Get Fired for Joining a Union?

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When you’re an at-will employee, your employer can terminate your work whenever they want, for substantial or non-substantial reasons. But joining a union gives you an advocate to protect your rights in case of unjust or unfair treatment. Does your employer have the legal right to fire you for unionizing?

According to the law, you cannot be fired for joining a union. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) permits workers to create, join, and support a union while working. If your employer dismisses you for joining a union, you can sue for damages (lost wage) and restoration of your job.

If you’re contemplating joining a union, this article covers everything you need to know. It explains why it’s right for you to unionize, what to do if you get fired for unionizing, and best practices when joining a union.

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Why You Have Legal Rights To Join a Union

Being an at-will employee gives you flexibility because nothing can restrain you from leaving a job you dislike. You can also change your lot when you notice the grass is greener on the other side whenever you wish. Conversely, your employer has the upper hand in setting policies such as benefit plans, wages, paid time-off, and termination.

In most cases, employers set rules that favor their businesses at the expense of employees, which validates unions. The purpose of unions is to fight for employee rights and to regulate employee-employer relationships. They negotiate for employees concerning:

  • Fair wages
  • Hiring, firing, and promotion regulations
  • Workplace rules and safety policies
  • Benefits
  • Complaint procedures

The government recognizes the importance of protecting employees and has acts such as NLRA and Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), which give you the freedom to join unions. Once you become a member, the union and employer must bargain collectively and formulate fair terms for all parties. 

What Rights Do You Have Regarding Joining a Union? 

According to NLRA, you assume the following rights:

  • Being a union member. You have the right to form, join, and organize a trade union with co-workers to negotiate better terms. However, you have to do this away from the place of work and outside your working hours. 
  • Collective bargaining. You have the right to negotiate collectively with your union members concerning your wages and work conditions. Once you reach a settlement, both parties should sign a written document and add it to other employment terms.
  • Discussing union with co-workers. You can hold discussions about forming a union with your co-workers or talk them into signing a petition to change the work environment away from the workplace.
  • Educate co-workers about unions. You can read, distribute and discuss literature materials about unions outside work hours.
  • Hold strikes. When all methods of settling disputes with your employer fail, you have the right to hold peaceful strikes to air your grievances. But, your employer has no right to compensate you for days you go on strike. 
  • Not to join a union. Just like you have the right to join a union, you also have the right not to join. Your employer should not influence you to join a union out of your will.

Limitations of Your Employer’s Rights

Most large institutions root against unions and may act swiftly to eliminate employees who have intentions to join or who have already joined the union. The reason is that unions disrupt the company’s autonomy and lower profitability due to increased wages. However, the law limits the freedom of the employer by prohibiting them from:

  • Coercing or giving you incentives not to join or participate in trade union activities or holding discussions with other employees about forming a union after work.
  • Barring you from sharing union literature materials or enlightening people about trade unions. 
  • Intimidating you through firing, demotion, or pay cut for being part of a union.
  • Forming a union that they oversee or run and forcing you to join it instead of other associations run by employees. 
  • Refusing to take part in collective bargaining to negotiate work condition reforms. 
  • Interrogating you about the union’s management, finances, and members with malicious intent. 

What if Your Boss Discriminates Against You for Joining a Union?

According to 2019 research conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, one out of every five employees is fired for attempting to form or join a union. Such statistics tell you it’s crucial to know your legal options if your employer wrongfully fired you.

First, you should file an unfair labor practice with the NLRB. They provide a set of forms where you write your petition or the reasons why you believe your employer fired you illegally. The statute of limitation is six months, after which you lose your legal right to sue. 

You should be aware that your employer knows it’s illegal to fire you for unionizing. They may cite other reasons to justify your dismissal, making your case difficult due to a lack of substantial evidence. Some of the issues you can mention to prove discrimination include:

  • Threats against you or your job for unionizing.
  • Work reassignment where your employer demotes you or gives you challenging roles as punishment.
  • Incentives or bribes such as a pay rise to forego unionizing intentions.

After filing the charges, the case may take a few months to allow for the following:

  • Investigatigation. The Regional Director evaluates the grievance to see if it requires formal actions.
  • Complaint and answer. The Regional Director sends a notice to your employer and gets a reply within 14 days. 
  • Trial and decision. A judge will preside over the hearing, and if your employer is guilty, they’ll receive a cease and desist order to stop unfair labor practices. If you have suffered damages such as loss of salary, you’ll receive compensation and get your job back.

Best Practices When Unionizing

Have Union Conversations Away From Your Workplace

While you may have the freedom of speech, you better exercise that freedom about unionizing talks away from your boss’ nose. As noted earlier, most employers are opponents of unions, and you might risk your job or that of your co-workers. Have the conversation while going home and keep it away from work communication channels such as slack or email. 

Keep Your Superiors Out of Your Plans

Although you may want to gain support from as many people as possible, you have to draw boundaries of who to involve in your conversations. The right place to start is from co-workers at your level and those below you. Though your supervisors and managers might be supportive of you, unionizing might be a threat as it would undermine their freedom.

Know Your Rights

If you’re ignorant about your rights, your employer can manipulate you and cause you to give up on your goals. Before joining or forming a union, educate yourself about your constitutional rights and all the laws that protect your unionizing rights. Also, learn about your employer’s right not to violate them. 

Does the National Labor Relations Act Protect All Employees?

While the NLRA offers employees many benefits, such as fair compensation and treatment, it does not cover all employees. It’s, thus, crucial to check if you qualify to join a union before taking action. Examples of employees not covered by the act include:

  • Domestic workers.
  • Independent contractors.
  • Agricultural laborers.
  • Family members.
  • Supervisors or managers have the right to hire, fire, promote, suspend, and reward.

Final Thoughts

Unionizing is a fundamental right recognized by the US Labor Act. It protects employees from labor malpractice by ensuring a conducive work environment and fair wages. Because unions threaten employers’ right to set work policies, some employers might find reasons to fire you for unionizing. However, you stand to win if you present the case in a court of law.

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