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NLRB General Counsel’s Office Issues Memorandum on COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard Bargaining Obligations

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In a memo issued on November 10th, Acting Associate General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board Joan Sullivan, provided information to all field offices on the recent Department of Labor Emergency Temporary Standard to Protect Workers from Coronavirus (ETS).

The memo explains that although General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo does not offer advisory opinions and each case stands on its own facts, the General Counsel’s position is that employers covered by the National Labor Relations Act have decisional bargaining obligations regarding aspects of the ETS that affect terms and conditions of employment—to the extent the ETS provides employers with choices regarding implementation.

Although an employer is not obligated to bargain where a specific change in terms and conditions of employment is statutorily mandated, the employer may not act unilaterally when it has some discretion in implementing those requirements. To the extent elements of the ETS do not give covered employers discretion, leaving aside decisional bargaining obligations, the employer is nonetheless obligated to bargain about the effects of the decision.

“The ETS clearly affects terms and conditions of employment—including the potential to affect the continued employment of workers who become subject to it—and gives covered employers discretion in implementing certain of its requirements.  In those circumstances, a decisional bargaining obligation is required.  The employer also has an obligation to bargain over the effects of this policy,” said General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo. “While our country recovers from COVID-19, workers should know they have the right to a safe workplace and to have their voices heard.”

Established in 1935, the National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency that protects employees, employers, and unions from unfair labor practices and protects the right of private sector employees to join together, with or without a union, to improve wages, benefits and working conditions. The NLRB conducts hundreds of workplace elections and investigates thousands of unfair labor practice charges each year.