Definition of The NLRB


The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or the “Board”) enforces federal labor laws. Labor law deals with unions, collective bargaining, and other issues related to organized labor.

What is the NLRB?

Concerns about unpaid wages, job safety, workplace bias, workers’ compensation, and other work-related matters are generally regarded as employment law. Those issues are outside the NLRB’s scope and are handled by various government agencies.

The NLRB has several purposes:

  1. Protecting employees’ right to organize and determine whether a union should be their bargaining representative
  2. Ensuring that employers do not act in a prejudicial manner against workers for joining unions or for bargaining for improved working conditions or better pay
  3. Preventing unfair labor practices by unions and private-sector employers
  4. Investigating unfair labor practice complaints
  5. Proposing and enforcing rules for enforcing the NLRA. For example, the NLRA has standards for determining what constitutes a joint employer or an independent contractor. The Board has recently proposed redefining those standards.

Why is it important to a small business?

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is necessary for small businesses because it governs employee rights and union activity. It also investigates unfair labor practice complaints made against employers and unions. As a result, it can impose penalties and subject small businesses to litigation.

The NLRB can impose penalties and subject small businesses to litigation.

Agency organization

The NLRB has 3 parts:

  • A 5-member board
  • A General Counsel
  • Regional offices

The President of the United States appoints Board members. Each member of the Board serves a 5-year term. The regulation requires the staggering of the terms. As a result, one Board member’s appointment expires each year.

The President is also responsible for appointing the General Counsel (GC). The GC serves a 4-year term. The NLRB’s top attorney investigates and prosecutes unfair labor practice cases. The General Counsel also supervises the cases processed by the field offices. The GC is independent of the Board.

The NLRB’s main office is in Washington, D.C. The Board has regional offices across the United States.

What is the history of the NLRB?

The NLRB was formed in 1935 to enforce the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. The Board’s purpose is to investigate charges and facilitate settlements.

The National Labor Relations Act

The NLRA was created to:

  • “Protect the rights of employees and employers
  • Encourage collective bargaining
  • Curtail certain private sector labor and management practices, which can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses, and the U.S. economy.”

It’s one of several federal labor law statutes. It is the principal federal labor law governing private-sector collective bargaining.

Section 7 of the NLRA legally protects workers from employer retaliation because they engaged in “concerted activity.”

Concerted activity happens when co-workers attempt to address work-related issues. Such actions can include:

  • Organizing a union
  • Talking to co-workers about working conditions
  • Demanding better working conditions
  • Bringing group complaints to an employer’s attention

A prohibition on retaliation means that an employer cannot discharge, discipline, or threaten workers for participating in concerted activity.

The NLRA protects private-sector employees. NLRB legal protection is not dependent on whether the workplace is unionized or non-unionized. The federal law also protects employees not interested in joining a union.

The NLRA doesn’t cover:

  • Agricultural and domestic workers
  • Employees for rail and air carriers covered by the Railway Labor Act
  • Independent contractors
  • Public sector employees
  • Supervisors

Three sections of the NLRA are especially important for business owners. Section:

  • 7 of the NLRA outlines the rights of employees.
  • 8 of the NLRA covers unfair labor practices by employers.
  • 9 of the NLRA governs bargaining relationships.

What happens when an employee files unfair labor practice charges?

Charges must be filed within 6 months of the alleged occurrence in an NLRB Regional Office. The Regional Office investigates the accusation and issues a complaint if the charge has merit.

The NLRB prefers to work out a settlement rather than take the matter to court even if it determines that an unfair labor practice has occurred. The agency notes on its website that “more than 90% of meritorious unfair labor practice cases are settled by agreement at some point in the process, either through a Board settlement or a private agreement.”

The NLRB prefers to work out a settlement rather than take the matter to court even if it determines that an unfair labor practice has occurred.

If a settlement is not reached, unfair labor practice complaints go to a hearing before an NLRB Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The administrative hearing involves the same elements as a court hearing. The participants offer arguments before the ALJ. They also present evidence as well as witnesses and experts for their testimony. The judge issues a decision and a recommended order after considering the evidence. ALJ decisions are subject to review by the 5-member Board in Washington, D.C. Either party filing the exception can appeal the decision.

On appeal, the Board reviews the case record. In most instances, a 3-member panel of Board members reviews and decides the case. The full Board will review and decide the case if the matter involves a new issue or if a decision could result in setting a legal precedent. The Board issues hundreds of decisions each year.

If either party disagrees with the Board’s ruling, they can appeal the decision to a federal appellate court. Sometimes, the decisions will go even further, landing in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Other information similar to the NLRB that can assist you

Summary of the NLRB

In recent decisions, the NLRB has ruled that employers can put boundaries on employees’ use of company email under certain circumstances. The decision also found that an employer’s social media policy cannot require employees to use their real names.

Through its enforcement of the NLRA and administrative rulings on unfair labor practices, the NLRB is a federal agency that cannot be ignored by HR professionals and employers.

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