The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that permanent charge nurses in acute care hospitals are “supervisors” according to the definition set forth in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The ruling, Oakwood Healthcare, Inc., is a further interpretation of the well-known Supreme Court ruling, Kentucky River. In Kentucky River, the Supreme Court disagreed with the NLRB’s application of the term “independent judgment”, a criteria of supervisor, to charge nurses. However, in Oakwood Health, the NLRB instead focused on the concept of “assigning work”, another criteria of statutory supervisor, in determining that permanent charge nurses are supervisors under the NLRA.
Since Oakwood Healthcare is an acute care hospital, this new ruling, for the time being, will only apply to other acute care hospitals. It is now extremely important for administrators and management teams within acute care hospitals to know whether their charge nurses are “supervisors” or “employees” under the NLRA, according to this new ruling. The reason why it is paramount to completely understand this distinction is because now in acute care hospitals it will be the difference in whether or not charge nurses can be represented by labor unions.
To help administrators and management teams determine whether or not their charge nurses are statutory supervisors, there are a couple of key components set forth in Oakwood Health that are important to understand. First, the NLRB stated that the term assigning work, “refers to the . . . designation of significant overall duties to an employee, not to the . . . ad hoc instruction that the employee perform a discrete task.” Secondly, the NLRB focused on the concept of “responsibly to direct” as it applies to the definition of a statutory supervisor. According to the NLRB this means that in order for this to apply to charge nurses in acute care hospitals it must be shown that the “employer delegated to the putative supervisor the authority to direct the work and the authority to take corrective action, if necessary” and that “there is a prospect of adverse consequences for the putative supervisor” arising from his/her direction of other employees.
If there are any other questions regarding this new ruling it behooves acute care hospitals to further explore this subject with a labor relations professional.