The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects the rights of employees to engage in activities related to organizing and collective bargaining. Workers alleging infringement of these rights can file a charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and may wish to discuss their situation with a New Jersey employment attorney. In November 2019, the NLRB ruled on a charge alleging that a nonprofit organization’s executive director interfered with efforts to advocate on behalf of unpaid interns. The NLRB’s decision is notable for New Jersey workers in at least two ways. First, it demonstrates how the NLRA can protect workers before any significantly adverse actions, such as termination, occur. Second, the decision addresses the limits of the NLRA’s protection with regard to individuals who are not considered employees, such as unpaid interns.
Section 7 of the NLRA protects a wide range of activities related to “mutual aid or protection” of fellow employees. This includes specific actions like forming or joining a labor organization, as well as “other concerted activities.” Under § 8(a)(1) of the statute, employers may not “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees” with regard to any of the rights protected by § 7. The NLRA does not provide a clear definition of “employee.” Prior decisions by the NLRB have held that “receiv[ing] or anticipat[ing]…economic compensation” is an essential element to be considered an “employee” under the statute.
The respondent employer is a nonprofit organization headquartered in New York City, with several offices elsewhere around the country. According to the NLRB’s decision, the respondent’s Washington, D.C. office usually has twenty-five employees and fifteen interns. The interns are typically students who volunteer to work for the organization for one semester, and who receive no compensation for their work.