The organizers of the Women’s March, which on January 21, 2017 drew an estimated three million participants worldwide, have announced that on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2017, they are planning a “General Strike: A Day Without a Woman.” Although the organization has not yet provided many details regarding its call to action, it is likely that as with last week’s national strike, “A Day Without Immigrants,” this event will include a call to supporters to refuse to report to work. Such a call to action will raise questions for employers regarding how they can respond to such political activity.
A walk out in support of a “General Strike: A Day Without a Woman” could be considered protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act, if there is a sufficient nexus between employment-related concerns and the specific issues that are the subject of the strike. When the motivation for political activity is a national political issue that the employer has no control over, such activity will not be protected and an employee’s discipline for a violation of well-established and neutrally applied policies is legally permissible. On the other hand, when employees leave work and withhold services as an economic tool in their own employment relationship, such activity is protected. For example, a few years ago, McDonalds’ employees held a nationwide strike in support of raising the national minimum wage. Although the national minimum wage was part of the reason workers refused to work, and their employers had no control over the national wage, the employees’ own wages and work conditions were an inherent and primary motivator for their participation in the strike. Thus, the National Labor Relations Board ascertained that a sufficient nexus existed for a finding that the strike was protected activity and filed complaints against several McDonalds challenging the disciplinary actions imposed on participating employees.
Since information is still forthcoming regarding this proposed strike, it is not yet clear whether participation in this event will be protected. Regardless, any action taken against an employee may be challenged through a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, which has authority to enforce violations of the Act against both unionized and non-unionized employers. If your business is impacted by this event, before you make any disciplinary decisions, it is important to ascertain if the reason for the absence is related to any employment concern in your workforce.