Wednesday, May 23, 2018
The NFL has just adopted a new policy on national anthem protests, which raises some potential labor law issues. As I understand the new policy, it implements three new features. First, it allows each team to establish its own policy on national anthem protests. The second feature, however, limits the first as it gives the NFL the power to fine any team if one of its players protests during the national anthem. The third feature also limits teams' ability to establish their own policy by eliminating the previous league-wide requirement that players must stay on the field during the anthem.
So what does this all mean? It appears that players who do not want to stand for the national anthem have at least two choices: stay in the locker room or take a knee during the anthem (or other types of protest). What happens to a player who takes the latter option depends on his team. At a minimum, the NFL will fine the team. But whether the individual player is disciplined depends on whether the team has established a policy barring such protests.
Labor law aficionados will see the potential NLRA issues here. The NFL owners established this new policy without discussing it with the NFLPA (players union). This raises some potential labor law problems. First, the new policy could violate the existing collective-bargaining agreement; indeed, the union said it was reviewing whether such a conflict exists. Second, by establishing a new policy without discussing it with the union, the NFL may have violated Section 8(a)(5) of the NLRA, which prohibits an employer from unilaterally implementing changes in work conditions without first bargaining with the union. The NFL is likely to argue that this duty to bargain isn't implicated because players have the option to avoid any penalties (i.e., adverse work actions) by staying in the locker room. That's a plausible argument, but it's not obviously a winning one because the union could respond that there has been a change in the terms of work, namely that players were previously required to stand on the sidelines during the anthem and could take a knee without penalty, while under the new policy that's no longer an option.
Stay tuned . . . .