Thousands of service workers across the country are planning to walk off the job today, May 1, 2017. The demonstrators are protesting President Donald Trump's policies, including his stance on immigration. May 1st, also known as "International Workers' Day," is a traditional day for labor activism.
The National Labor Relations Act protects workers who engage in lawful concerted activity for purposes of mutual aid and protection. However, political protests about broad government action without specific workplace concerns may not be protected. This is where it gets complicated for employers. To find out whether the NLRA would protect your employee's absence, and it's not recommended you do this, you'd have to ask your employee specifically why they took part in the protest. Unless the employee points back to a workplace issue the employer arguably has control over, the protest may not be a protected absence.
Since it's such a grey area, we suggest treating the absences the same way you would in any other circumstance. You may consider having a contingency plan in place so operations are not disrupted if employees don't show up.
I had a chance to go in depth with Al Ruechel at BayNews9 about the best way for employers to handle potential May Day protests and other situations like it that may arise.