The Legalities of Mass Employee Walkouts Vs. the Practicalities of Avoiding Them in the First Place

Three central Ohio Sonic restaurants are without employees after their entire staffs walked off the job in protest against new management and its policies.

According to The Scioto Post, employees left a handwritten note on the door, reading in part, “Due to terrible management the whole store has quit. The company has been sold to people that don’t give a f*uck about anyone but themselves.”

The dispute stems from new management cutting wages from at or near minimum wage to a tipped employee wage of $4 per hour, in addition to allegations of under-the-table work, racism and other mistreatment.

This story raises two questions.

1. Do employees have the right to walk off the job, and what can you do about it? 

Yes, generally speaking, whether union or non-union, employees have the right under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act to engage in protected concerted activity, which includes mass walkouts in protest against wages and other terms and conditions of employment. Despite that right, however, if an employer has a bona fide and consistently applied policy against no-call/no-shows (or other attendance or time-off policy), it can lawfully enforce that policy against the walkouts. The key, however, is consistency. If you have even one instance of giving an employee a pass, you are taking a huge risk that the NLRB will find that enforcing the policy against the walkouts equates to unlawful retaliation.

2. Whether they have the right to do so, what can you do proactively to prevent this from happening?

To answer this question, I’ll turn to my friend, Suzanne Lucas, who addressed this story at

The key to avoiding this type of dramatic action by employees is simply “don’t be a jerk and follow the law.” Racism at work is illegal. Under-the-table work is illegal. Being a jerk isn’t illegal (as long as you are an equal opportunity jerk), but it makes employees not feel any loyalty.

The solution can be quite simple: Treat your employees well. You’re not going to save money with high turnover and employees who hate you. So, don’t be a jerk and you’ll likely prevent the same thing from happening at your company.

The answer to question No. 2 is more important than that to No. 2. If you treat employees reasonably well and with fairness, you shouldn’t have to worry about mass walkouts or the legalities surrounding them.

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