In 2021, Haven Salon + Spa in Muskego, Wisconsin came to the attention of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) when it fired an employee who raised concerns about safety protocols at the business. The NLRB found that Haven Salon violated the National Labor Relations Act (the Act), which protects employees who engage in activities to improve working conditions. Just recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ordered the corporate officials be taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals for refusing to comply with the Board’s order.
Can a federal agency really send someone to jail? Here’s what we know.
What did Haven Salon do?
Haven Salon fired an employee who was concerned about safety protocols during the covid pandemic. Granted, there was a lot of uncertainty and conflicting recommendations at the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. The employee complained to the NLRB, which determined that the activity was protected concerted activity within the Act.
The NLRB issued an order requiring the business to reinstate the employee and to make the employee whole as a result of the termination against her. Haven Salon also had to file compliance with the NLRB. The entire problem would have been solved if Haven Salon had complied with the NLRB’s order.
What is the NLRB?
The NLRB is a federal agency that enforces the Act, much like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission handles discrimination. Under the Act, protected employees have the right to certain activities to improve working conditions, whether the employees are part of a union or not. The Act covers most employees in the private sector, but there are a few exclusions, such as people employed in domestic service in a home or those employed as supervisors.
Under the Act, employees can discuss work-related issues with each other, such as pay or safety concerns. Employees can also speak to the employer about addressing these issues. Employers are forbidden from interfering or restraining employees for working together to improve conditions of employment, even if company policy prohibits the activity.
NLRB doesn’t let go
After several attempts to get Haven Salon to comply, in February 2023, the NRLB filed a motion with the Court asking them to hold Haven Salon in contempt. The Court ordered the business to comply and imposed daily fines that could be forgiven if the business did comply within a week. Haven Salon did not comply.
The NRLB filed another motion that named the business owners as responsible for not complying and asked the Court to liquidate the fines. In September, the Court granted the motion. Haven Salon was ordered to pay more than $30,000 to the NRLB and the business owners were taken into custody.
Reportedly, the business owners agreed to comply immediately at the hearing after being taken into custody.
This all could have been avoided, if the company had simply complied with the original order. Don’t think that the NLRB or the EEOC will just go away if employers attempt to avoid compliance with the law. Employers cannot discriminate against employees who are participating in protected concerted activities. The NRLB is committed to justice for victims of unfair labor practices.