Your Rights as a Petition Creator
Speaking out against your employer can seem like a daunting task. You may have heard troubling stories about other employees who have tried similar things, but your right to speak out about your working conditions is protected by law. The information below will help you understand your protections under the law, and how to navigate any challenges you may face.
Note: This FAQ is based on U.S. law and may not apply to petition creators in other countries.
Am I going to get fired for this?
Anyone who starts a campaign on Coworker.org risks getting fired or facing some sort of retaliation from a supervisor. However, you very likely have the legal right to ask for improvements in your workplace, so long as you do so with or on behalf of your coworkers, as well as yourself.
It’s against the law in the United States to fire or retaliate against an employee who joins with his or her coworkers to improve their working conditions. This is called protected concerted activity, the right to engage in which is guaranteed to most private sector employees under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). (Not protected by the NLRA, however, are federal, state, and local government employees, supervisors, agricultural workers, independent contractors, many employees involved in the railroad and airline business, and employees of many small businesses, among others.)
Make sure your campaign meets the following basic criteria:
There are two or more workers addressing the problem together
You are not using your work time to talk about the issue
It is about a positive change that will improve conditions for all employees
Any critical statements made about your employer or its supervisors are related to how you and your coworkers are treated at work
You do not use your work computer or work email address (i.e., the company’s internet domain name) to communicate about your petition
All of the statements made about your employer are true
Below we have a guide for what you should do if you face retaliation from your employer.
This all sounds really complicated - what does it mean for me?
It means you have the protected, legal right to create and run a petition on an issue that impacts your life at work. Just make sure you don’t use company time, or your company email accounts, and remember there’s strength in numbers.
Why is it so important that I get my coworkers to sign?
Getting your coworkers to sign your petition increases your protection under the law. Per Section 7 (referenced above) this kind of workplace activity is protected so long as it is directed at improving the working conditions of more than one employee. While the legal protection is important, it’s also important to have the support of your coworkers for the overall success of your campaign. A good Coworker.org campaign starts with a conversation – or a few conversations – about a problem you’re all facing at work. You want to be sure the problem you’re trying to solve, and the solution you’re proposing, is something you’ll all be willing to work toward together.
I live in a Right to Work state. Am I still protected?
You sure are – employees in Right to Work states enjoy the same Section 7 Protections as anyone else.
My coworker started this petition and wants me to join her. I agree that we need a change, but I’m afraid I’ll get fired.
It can be scary to support a coworker’s petition, but that is often the only way employees can win change at work. Each time another employee supports a campaign, it becomes harder for an employer to dismiss the petition’s demands.
Furthermore, firing an employee who is covered by the NLRA for signing a Coworker.org petition to improve conditions at work is illegal.
Section 8(a)(3) of the NLRA states that an employer cannot retaliate — either with dismissal or other disciplinary action — against employees for exercising their legal right to attempt to improve conditions in the workplace.
You therefore have the legal right to sign your co-worker’s Coworker.org petition to improve things at work, at least so long as you are covered by the NLRA. If you encounter retaliation of any kind, the first step is to thoroughly document what’s happened. Keep reading to get more information about firing and retaliation.
My employer said I can’t talk to the media.
As long as you’re discussing wages, benefits and/or working conditions with reporters, it’s within your legal right under the NLRA to speak to the media. You should not disclose proprietary information or anything not directly related to your campaign to improve your workplace.
The NLRB ruled that employers cannot prevent employees from speaking to the media about their wages, benefits and working conditions. (If you’d like training, coaching, or advice about how to best get your message across to the media, the Coworker team is available to help.
My employer is saying that if I don’t take this petition down I’m going to get fired.
Your employer may have just broken the law. Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA protects you from being threatened with any discipline for your petition to improve your job or workplace.
First, thoroughly document in writing any threats or statements made by your supervisor(s) to you or your coworkers. Save any emails that are exchanged about your petition. If you have a conversation with your boss, immediately write down and date the conversation in a journal.
If you haven’t yet, contact the media about your campaign. Email, call or tweet at local reporters who might be interested. Explain to them the facts of your campaign and recent threats from your employer. If your campaign receives media attention, you can go back to the media if your boss decides to retaliate. Sometimes, a reporter’s interest in a campaign can lead to a victory. If you’d like assistance connecting with reporters, you can reach out to a member of the Coworker team.
Finally, if you do get fired or face disciplinary action, it’s important that you take legal steps to challenge your employer’s actions. See below for more information.
What else can I do if my boss pressures me or my coworkers to stop organizing?
It is illegal under the NLRA for an employer to interfere with your right to engage in protected activity. This means it would be illegal for your employer to tell you and your coworkers that you are forbidden from sending or signing a Coworker.org petition. It would also be illegal for your employer to do anything to prevent or intimidate employees from joining the petition. Actions like these are called “interference.”
Interference can be something that impacts one worker in particular, like cutting an employee’s hours in order to discourage them from engaging in protected activity, or it can be something like a communication made to the entire workforce, like telling employees they cannot talk to any third parties about their working conditions.
If your boss is trying to prevent you from engaging in protected activity, you may want to consider filing an unfair labor practice – see below.
What if I am retaliated against for circulating the petition?
It is illegal for your employer to take retaliatory action against you for having engaged in protected activity. Retaliation can include actions like reducing your hours, or giving you a less favorable work assignment when those actions are taken because you engaged in protected concerted activity. You may want to consider filing an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB – see below.
I got fired. Now what?
First of all, we are truly sorry to hear this. Coworker.org is designed to guide you as carefully as possible towards taking actions that will not result in retaliation from your employer, but nothing is airtight. Thankfully, there are resources available to you and people to help you every step of the way.
The first thing you should do is file what is called an Unfair Labor Practice with your regional NLRB – see below.
Nothing bad has happened to me, but my employer has taken action against a coworker that I think may have been unlawful. Is there anything I can do?
You might still be able to file an unfair labor practice against your employer. There is no requirement that the person filing a charge be the same person who was actually discriminated against, so any employee could file a charge claiming that an employer committed an unfair labor practice when it took a particular action toward another employee. However, for practical purposes, you’ll probably need the cooperation of your coworker in order to successfully bring an unfair labor practice.
Filing an Unfair Labor Practice with the NLRB
An unfair labor practice is a charge you can file against your employer if you believe they have violated your rights.
The first step you’ll need to take is to find your NLRB regional office. You can do so here. Each regional office has an information officer who can provide some assistance and answer basic questions.
To file an unfair labor practice charge, you will need to fill out a “Charge Against Employer” form. The form will ask you for some basic information about your employer and what happened. Your region’s information officer can help you fill out the form if you need help. To file the form, you will have to fax it or bring it to the regional office in-person. You also have to serve a copy of the charge on your employer. You can do this by sending a copy to your employer via regular mail.
After you’ve filed a charge, the regional office will review your unfair labor practice charge and conduct an investigation. You will also be contacted by someone from the regional office to gather more information about the allegations in your charge. You may be asked to give an “affidavit,” which is a sworn statement. You may be asked to provide the names of other employees who have information to support the allegations in your charge. You should try to cooperate and provide as much information as you can.
If the regional office agrees that what your employer did was unlawful, they will issue a complaint. After this, they may see if your employer is willing to settle, which would involve paying workers the wages and benefits they lost due to the employer’s unlawful acts (if any), and also agreeing not to act unlawfully in the future. If there is no settlement, the regional office might end up taking the case to trial.
You can see a flow chart outlining these steps here.
Feel free to reach out to the Coworker team for support filing an Unfair Labor Practice.
I still have a lot of questions about what might happen when I launch my campaign. What should I do?
Reach out! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. A member of our campaigns team would be happy to speak with you about your unique situation and any additional questions or concerns you might have.