Clarity on When Colleges are “Religious Enough” That Their Faculty are Precluded from Joining a Union

The National Labor Relations Board recently held that it will assert jurisdiction over faculty members of a college or university that claims to be a religious employer unless the institution shows both: 1) that it holds itself out as providing a religious educational environment; and 2) that it holds out faculty who seek to unionize as performing a specific role in creating or maintaining that religious environment. The Board requires minimal evidence to satisfy the first factor. Meeting the second factor is more demanding.

The Regional Director declined to assert jurisdiction over Carroll College faculty because the employees were subject to employment-related decisions based on religious considerations. For example, the College’s handbook provision on discharging faculty who show “serious disrespect or disregard” for the school’s Catholic mission was “a public representation of the College.”

While this decision indicates a college may be able to show it is outside the board’s jurisdiction by pointing to employment policies that link employee behavior to the school’s religious mission, the Regional Director also determined that Carroll College faculty are managerial employees. Managerial employees in all industries are precluded from joining unions.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at