Recently, additional details were released regarding the March 8, 2017, A Day Without A Woman, organized by the same group responsible for the Women’s March in January. In addition, other groups, such as the International Women’s Strike, are now planning their own events on March 8, International Women’s Day. Some of these organizations are encouraging women to ask their employers for the day off, while others appear to suggest women should actually refuse to work. When an employer approves the time away from work, then employees are not really engaged in a “strike” in the traditional understanding of the word. On the other hand, refusing to work when scheduled without employer approval is a strike.
As explained in our previous post, the purpose of the strike determines how an employer can legally respond to its employees that refuse to work. If workers are taking action to alter the terms and conditions of their employment, and their employer has the power to make the changes being sought, such activity will most likely be protected by the National Labor Relations Act.
The basic platform set forth for A Day Without A Woman, as explained in the draft letter to employers that can be downloaded from the Women’s March website, is that the event is to recognize “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system — and the pervasive and systemic gender-based inequalities that still exist within our society, from the wage gap, to vulnerability, to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.” As stated, this platform appears to focus on national, general objectives that may weigh in favor of a finding that the activity is not protected by the National Labor Relations Act. Yet, as evidenced by the charges filed against several McDonald’s a few years ago, if employees’ own wages and work conditions are an inherent and primary motivator for their participation in the strike, then the strike may be protected.
Some employers may choose to support the national platform being proposed, and either allow those wishing to participate time off without question, or shut down their operations for the day. Other employers that are unable to provide such support and need workers in order to meet client expectations, may want to impose disciplinary action pursuant to a well-established policy applicable to employees who refuse to work. If this is the case, they should first ascertain the reasons for such refusal before imposing any such disciplinary action.