May Day, May Day! Where have the workers gone?

Following the headline-grabbing protests earlier this year in response to President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration-related Executive Orders, activists soon began organizing again. After successful demonstrations across the country on “A Day Without Immigrants” in February, immigration advocates focused their attention on May 1, also known as May Day. For many years, May 1 has been a day of activism, particularly with regard to labor issues. This year, immigrant employees and business owners were urged to stay home on May Day in an effort to demonstrate the important role immigrant workers play in the U.S. economy. How should employers respond when such protests occur?

What can employers do?

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects workers who engage in “concerted activity,” meaning they can’t be punished for participating in a walkout, for example. But that doesn’t mean employers don’t have options.

For one thing, you are free to remind employees about your attendance policies and discipline any workers who violate them. Just be sure you enforce your policies evenhandedly, no matter the reason underlying employee absences. Moreover, employees are not free to engage in illegal activity as a means of protest. For example, advocating destruction of property in any way could be grounds for discipline.

I’m with you!

If you belong to trade organizations or other groups that back immigration reform, consider speaking to your employees about your support for the issues they addressed on May Day. You might explain that you appreciate the message that a walkout is intended to convey, and you understand the contributions immigrants have made to America and the impact immigration issues have on families. That may help employees understand that they can be supportive of protests and still come to work. Just be clear that their activism itself won’t get them in trouble with you.

Not so fast

A recent study confirmed that more than half of all immigrant families include members with different legal statuses. So it’s important to ensure that managers don’t make assumptions about employees’ work authorization. Just because a worker feels passionately about immigration policies doesn’t mean he’s undocumented, and jumping to conclusions can lead to accusations of discrimination. The best way to ensure your workforce is legal is to get HR up to date on I-9 compliance.

Jacob M. Monty, the managing partner of Monty & Ramirez, LLP, practices at the intersection of immigration and labor law. He can be reached at jmonty@montyramirezlaw.com or 281-493-5529.