Employees who were terminated from a California skilled nursing facility one week ahead of a union election must be reinstated and compensated for back pay, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled in late April.

A complaint was lodged against Novato Healthcare Center in Novato, CA, by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, claiming the facility interrogated employees about their union sympathies before an election in October 2015. Managers eventually suspended and terminated five employees — four of whom were supportive of joining the union — days before the vote. 

An administrator for Novato testified that the firings were due to the employees sleeping outside of break times, jeopardizing resident safety.

In the NLRB’s opinion, Administrative Law Judge Amita Baman Tracy said that two administrators at the Brius-operated facility gave “vague” testimony about what led to the workers’ terminations, and interfered with employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

“Respondent claims that it would have suspended and terminated the employees regardless of Union activity due to the ‘brazen’ nature of the discriminatees’ conduct,” Tracy wrote. “I find that [Novato] failed to prove that it would have taken the same adverse actions in the absence of union activity.”

Labor counsel for Novato told McKnight’s that the facility was disappointed by Tracy’s ruling and plans to appeal.

“We are confident the full board will overturn the decision as the facility was well within its rights for terminating these individuals for sleeping on the job and placing facility residents at risk,” the counsel said in a statement.

Under the ruling, Novato must offer reinstatement to all five employees; reward them back pay; take any references to the incident off of their files; and post a notice in the facility that the provider “will not interrogate you about your union sympathies.”