The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently announced that it would enter the world of smartphone and tablet applications (better known as “apps”) and provide employers, employees and unions with information regarding their rights and obligations under the National Labor Relations Act.
NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce noted that the “National Labor Relations Act guarantees the right of workers to join together, with or without a union, to improve their working lives.” Stressing the usefulness of the app for employers and employees alike, Chairman Pearce further stated that the “promise of the law can only be fulfilled when employers and employees understand their rights and obligations. With this app, we are using 21st century technology to inform and educate the public about the law and their rights.”
In a nod to its clear, more activist intent, and one which undoubtedly should give pause to employers, the chairman stated that “the American people have questions about the law.” He explained that “this app can help provide the answers.”
What answers the app might provide is an open question, particularly as it gains greater visibility and usage. Based on our assessment, it is highly likely that in addition to the general information the app offers, it may also be used as a defensive tool by workers regardless of union status. Among other things, the app provides users with substantial detail about an employee’s right to strike or to engage in “concerted activity,” including the right to engage in protected activity on social media like Facebook.
In this regard, the app reads like a worker’s guide to “best practices,” informing workers that they have the right to address work-related issues on social media while reminding them not to gripe about individual matters. By relating complaints to a “labor controversy” or to “group action,” workers are reminded that they are protected by the law and the NLRB.
Finally, the app directs users to contact the NLRB should an individual have any questions not addressed in the app. This immediate access may spur an increase in charges and other action by the NLRB.
Following the lead of the United States Department of Labor, which also launched a worker-friendly smartphone and tablet application, the NLRB’s advancement into mobile technology is not unexpected. As ever, employers must be diligent and informed. Knowing that workers may be reading off a script provided by the NLRB should serve as an important reminder to confer with counsel when addressing employee or union-related concerns.
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