Refusal to Operate Machine Because of Safety Concerns Was Protected Concerted Activity
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found that an employee’s refusal to follow an order to operate a machine based on safety fears that he and a coworker expressed earlier in the day was concerted activity regarding the terms and conditions of employment and thereby protected by the National Labor Relations Act.
In St. Paul Park Refining Co., LLC dba Western Refining v. NLRB, the Eighth Circuit found that the employee’s refusal to operate the machine was a “logical outgrowth” of his earlier discussions with his coworker about safety concerns arising from a change in the operating procedure for that machine. Of significance to the Eighth Circuit, the employee had repeatedly called for a “safety stop,” under which workers could stop a job due to safety concerns and discuss mitigation measures with Company supervisors. Accordingly, the employee’s unpaid suspension was a violation of the NLRA. The Eighth Circuit also noted other evidence of a discriminatory motive, in that the employee was sent home after his refusal to work, that the Company relied almost entirely on supervisors’ accounts in its investigation into the matter, and that the Company gave inconsistent reasons for the discipline.
This case emphasizes the need for employers to tread carefully when employees raise safety concerns – beyond workplace safety issues, such conduct can also implicate rights under the NLRA.