NLRB says labor law-breaking bosses owe more than just lost wages
Starbucks workers and supporters hold signs during the 'Unfair Labor Practice Strike,' on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022 in St. Anthony, Minn. | Kerem Yücel / Minnesota Public Radio via AP

Losing a job is a financial blow that extends beyond lost wages. Sudden unemployment can mean taking on credit card debt, losing the ability to pay a mortgage, and racking up medical bills.

But if it turns out the termination was illegal, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) typically limits financial damages to wages and benefits. So, even if back wages are eventually paid, the worker is stuck footing the bill for any other financial strain incurred during the investigation.

On Dec. 7, the NLRB signaled a change in direction, through a national board decision in a case where marketing company Thryv, Inc. failed to provide the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers with requested information.

The relevant ruling: The board found that financial costs—beyond lost wages—incurred because of unfair labor practices should be part of the compensation employers are ordered to pay to make the worker whole again.

Workers seeking these damages will need strong legal representation. They’ll have to make the case for their damages, and the ruling leaves plenty of language open to interpretation.

It says employers will be ordered to pay affected workers for “all direct or foreseeable” financial harms they incurred due to the unfair labor practices. That sets the stage for what Portland labor lawyer Katelyn Oldham says could be a lot of creative lawyering.

“I think what will be interesting is, what’s ‘foreseeable’ harm?” Oldham said. If a worker is illegally fired when the job market is poor, and the worker loses their home because they can no longer pay the mortgage, will that be considered a “foreseeable” financial impact?

Ultimately, Oldham says, the change is positive for workers—but its true impact will depend on how appeals courts treat the NLRB decision.

Northwest Labor Press


Colin Staub
Colin Staub

Colin Staub is a labor reporter for Northwest Labor Press.