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The One Day Walk Off and Some Key Things to Know

Posted By Cindy Hesch, Sunday, August 27, 2017

The One Day Walk Off and Some Key Things to Know

By: Scott Mara, SHRM-CP, PHR-CA

                The United States saw unions forming around the mid-18th century (1). Workers believed they needed a voice to negotiate on their behalf with management. Unions promised workers better wages, improved working conditions and other benefits. Union membership peaked in the early 1960’s. According to the Department of Labor, Union membership rate in the United States for 2015 was 11.1% and the numbers of workers belonging to Unions was 14.8 million (2).

In the past, one tactic that Unions used for leverage was the strike. Strikes were used to get management to negotiate with the Union, in some cases strikes were also used to get government to enact new laws or change public policy for workers. Strikes could last for weeks or months. Today, social activists, community leaders, and Unions have changed tactics and now are using the one day walk off as a tool to get their message out and force companies and/or government agencies to act. Unions and others realize people cannot afford to be on strike for extended periods of time. In the past few years we started seeing various movements start such as the Fight for Fifteen, A Day Without Immigrants, A Day Without a Woman, and May 1 Strike, just to name a few. These movements were to get support for increased wages/benefits or to change government policy. One thing is for sure, Human Resources will find themselves right in the middle when the next walk-off happens; to be ready for the next walk off there are a few things you need to know.    

Is the one day walk off protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) as concerted activity? It might come as a surprise to you that the NLRA can be applied to both union and non-union employees which means you can’t take adverse action against the employee (2). The main question that needs to be addressed is: does the walk off relate to working conditions, wages and/or benefits or is it a politically motivated? The NLRA only protects employees who are engaged in lawful concerted activity that is related to work issues. Workers who protest or strike for political reasons are not afforded protections by the NLRA (3). Like many things in Human Resources today, you need to make sure you consult with a good labor attorney.

            During walk offs or strikes employers have the right to continue their business operations. Human Resources and Operations should work together and develop a plan. Key points to know:

·         Monitoring industry social media sites (not employees’ social media) may give you a heads up that a walk off is being planned. Keeping your ears open and listen to employees.

·         Have a business continuation plan ready. This may involve assigning managers/bringing in temp workers to help cover shifts or have modified work hours. If the walk off is a protected concerted activity your workers have the right to come back to work.

·         Remember the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has consistently upheld worker’s rights to complain about their working conditions and organize protests so before you discipline an employee for social media posts consult with your attorney.

·         While employees are in a public place protesting don’t monitor or record them. This might imply you are gathering information on them to be used later in terms of taking an adverse action against them.

·         If you have a public relations department make sure to coordinate with them to present a standard company message concerning the walk off. Also funnel all information requests to the public relations department. No lone wolfs here.  

·         If an employee simply says they missed work because of the walk off that was not protected as concerted activity you may be able to apply your attendance policy in this situation. If the absence occurred while the walk off was related to working conditions then the absence is protected. Tread carefully and work with counsel in advance of the walk off.

·         If managers see employees walking off their shift in support of the walk off, have the manager and a witness ask the employee why h/she is leaving try to determine the reason(s). If work related, offer to have them discuss their concerns with management.

·         Don’t allow managers or supervisors to threaten employees. Always act professional. If the discussion becomes “heated” take a small break or walk away.

·         Employees will lose their protection from the NLRB if they engage in threatening behavior, physical assaults, destruction of property. Best practice is to contact the police. Before implementing any adverse action against employees; a thorough investigation should be conducted and your labor attorney should be involved.

·         Conduct training for supervisors and managers on union avoidance, how to handle walk offs and protests. Make sure they know the Do’s and Don’ts.

·         Conduct employee satisfaction surveys at least annually although quarterly allows you to address problems before they escalate.

Dealing with walk offs, protests or strikes can be overwhelming. However, being prepared and informed is your best defense. The NLRA is a complex piece of law and it is ever changing. Working with an experienced labor attorney is critical. They can help guide you and help you stay out of trouble.


1.     A Brief History of Unions: How Unions Have Fought for Fairness at Work Over the Years.

2.     A Brief History of Unions: How Unions Have Fought for Fairness at Work Over the Years.

3.     Employers Advised to be Careful Dealing with Immigrant Protests. By Jacob M. Monty of Monty & Ramirez, LLP. February 15, 2017. 

4.     What Employers Need to Know about the Day Without Immigrants Walkout. By Fisher Phillips. February 15, 2017.




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