National Labor Relations Board Broadens
Definition of “Supervisor” Under Federal Law
Lori K. Londis, Esq. | October 18, 2006
The National Labor Relations Board has just made it easier for an employee to
qualify as a “supervisor” under federal law. In Oakwood Healthcare, Inc.,
(9/29/06), the Board broadened the definition of supervisor, making it easier to
exclude supervisors from union membership.
This decision matters to employers operating in a union environment because
it clarifies how management can create new, non-union supervisory positions.
For those working in a non-union environment, this definition will become
important if and when a union launches a campaign to organize your workers.
Should such a campaign occur, you will need to think carefully about which
members of your supervisory team truly qualify as statutory “supervisors” in
order to best organize your response.
The Oakwood decision addressed only part of the definition of “supervisor,”
namely what it means to “assign” or “responsibly direct” other employees in a way
that requires the use of “independent judgment.” To “assign” now means
“designating an employee to a place (such as a location, department, or wing),
appointing an employee to a time (such as a shift or overtime period), or giving
significant overall duties, i.e., tasks, to an employee.” The tasks assigned must
involve “significant overall duties” rather than discrete or ad hoc tasks.
The phrase “responsibly to direct” now means that supervisors must be held
accountable to management for the performance of the employees they supervise.
Finally, supervisors must assign or direct other employees in a manner that requires
“independent judgment,” meaning they must make “professional or technical
judgments” that require discretion, as distinguished from performing merely
routine, clerical tasks. Judgments will not be considered “independent” if they are
“dictated or controlled by detailed instructions” (written or verbal).