Consequences for Unlawful Strikes and Lockouts

An informative exploration of the legal implications and repercussions that come with engaging in unlawful strikes and lockouts. Get a comprehensive understanding of the rules, regulations, and penalties associated with these actions under various labor laws.
Consequences for Unlawful Strikes and Lockouts

Table of Contents

  • Introduction

  • Defining Unlawful Strikes and Lockouts

  • Understanding Strikes and Lockouts

  • The Impact of Unlawful Strikes on Employees

  • How Labor Laws Navigate Strikes and Lockouts

  • Delving into Case Studies

  • Legal Consequences of Unlawful Strikes

  • What Makes Strikes and Lockouts Unlawful?

  • Provisions in Different Labor Laws

  • Conclusion


Labor disputes are inevitable in the world of employment and are typically characterized by strikes and lockouts. However, not all these actions are legally justified, and when they cross the boundary into illegality, serious consequences can follow. This article delves into the concept of unlawful strikes and lockouts, exploring their legal repercussions.

Employment relationships represent a significant component of our socio-economic fabric, and strikes and lockouts have always been essential instruments of bargaining power for both employees and employers. However, when such collective actions fail to adhere to the regulatory norms set by labour laws, they transform into unlawful strikes and lockouts with significant consequences.

In the context of labour relations, a strike represents a collective work stoppage instigated by employees, while a lockout is an action undertaken by an employer to shut down work in response to a labour dispute. While these tools aim to level the negotiation field, their misuse can lead to drastic repercussions.

In this blog, we aim to delve into the concept of unlawful strikes and lockouts, examining their impacts on employees and employers alike. We will explore what makes a strike or lockout unlawful, the potential consequences, and how existing labour laws navigate these delicate situations. Furthermore, we will dissect notable case studies that serve to illuminate the realities of this complex issue.

It's important to note that this blog aims to shed light on the issue from a neutral perspective, recognizing the rights and responsibilities of both employees and employers within the legal framework. Our primary objective is to foster a deeper understanding and promote a balanced discussion around the contentious issues of strikes and lockouts.

Defining Unlawful Strikes and Lockouts

An unlawful strike or lockout is one carried out in violation of the rules stipulated under labor laws. The specific definition can vary across jurisdictions, but it typically includes strikes or lockouts that fail to comply with procedures or occur under circumstances where these actions are prohibited.

A strike or lockout becomes unlawful if it is conducted in a manner that contravenes the prescribed legal procedures. For example, in some jurisdictions, it is a requirement that the decision to strike be approved by a majority of union members through a secret ballot. A strike conducted without such approval would thus be unlawful. Similarly, a lockout might be deemed unlawful if it is implemented without giving the employees the required notice, or if it is used as a means to discriminate against union members.

The definition of what makes a strike or lockout unlawful can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, as labor laws differ. However, generally, a strike or lockout can be deemed unlawful if it doesn't meet specific criteria or breaches the pre-established rules. For instance, conducting a strike without the mandatory secret ballot approval from a majority of union members or a lockout implemented without providing requisite notice to the employees could be considered unlawful. Unlawful lockouts can also include those actions taken by an employer that intentionally discriminate against members of a union.

Understanding Strikes and Lockouts

Before discussing the consequences of unlawful strikes and lockouts, it's crucial to understand these terms. A 'strike' is a work stoppage initiated by employees protesting against certain terms of their employment. On the other hand, a 'lockout' is an action taken by the employer where they temporarily close a workplace or suspend work to pressurize the employees to meet specific demands.

Strikes and lockouts form an integral part of labor relations. They are tools used by employees and employers, respectively, to pressurize the other party to accede to certain demands. The nature of these demands can range from wage hikes and better working conditions for workers, to increased productivity and adherence to certain policies for employers. However, these are extreme measures and are typically resorted to only when more conciliatory methods of resolution, such as negotiation or mediation, have failed.

Strikes and lockouts, while considered extreme measures, play a pivotal role in labor relations and act as a balance of power mechanism between employers and employees. Strikes serve as a collective withdrawal of work by employees, a nonviolent way to express grievances and bring attention to workers' rights violations or unfair labor practices. Lockouts, on the other hand, are initiated by employers to enforce certain terms of employment during a labor dispute. However, both of these measures should be exercised within the legal framework, adhering to guidelines and restrictions established by labor laws.

The Impact of Unlawful Strikes on Employees

When employees choose to participate in unlawful strikes, they are stepping into a territory that comes with severe repercussions. They may lose certain protections provided by labor laws and become vulnerable to punitive measures. Termination, loss of wages, legal liability, and losing their right to protection against unfair dismissal are some potential consequences. The shadow of an unlawful strike can linger over their careers, hampering their prospects.

Engaging in an unlawful strike can have serious repercussions for employees. The most immediate impact is the potential loss of wages, benefits, and even job security, as employers may be legally allowed to replace striking workers permanently in some cases. Furthermore, participation in unlawful strikes can lead to legal liabilities, including damages and penalties.

In the long term, the stigma of participation in unlawful industrial action may affect the employees' employment prospects. Also, the worker's union could face legal action and penalties, potentially compromising its ability to protect and negotiate on behalf of its members.

How Labor Laws Navigate Strikes and Lockouts

Labor laws across various jurisdictions have specific provisions for strikes and lockouts. Some allow 'protected' strikes and lockouts where the participants are shielded from legal consequences provided they adhere to the stipulated procedures. However, actions that deviate from these procedures are considered 'unprotected' or unlawful, opening up participants to legal ramifications.

Labor laws try to strike a balance between protecting the rights of employees to protest unfair labor practices and the need for employers to maintain their operations. Legal provisions regarding strikes and lockouts vary by jurisdiction and depend on factors such as the nature of the dispute, the type of work performed by the employees, and whether the correct procedures were followed.

In general, labor laws require certain procedures to be adhered to before initiating strikes or lockouts. These might include mandatory cooling-off periods, attempts at mediation or arbitration, and, in the case of strikes, a vote by union members.

Delving into Case Studies

Studying specific instances of unlawful strikes and lockouts can provide a wealth of knowledge on the subject. The mechanics' strike at Northwest Airlines in 2005 is an example of an unlawful strike that led to the dismissal of employees involved. Similarly, the lockout by National Grid in Massachusetts in 2018 resulted in the company having to compensate workers for lost wages, in addition to facing regulatory scrutiny.

An insightful case study of an unlawful strike is the 1981 air traffic controllers' strike in the United States. President Reagan declared the strike unlawful as it violated a statutory prohibition on strikes by government employees, leading to the termination of over 11,000 striking workers.

On the other hand, a famous instance of an unlawful lockout is the 1998-99 NBA lockout where the owners imposed a lockout leading to the cancellation of many games. The lockout was a result of the failure of the players and owners to reach an agreement and while it was not deemed unlawful, it serves as an example of the extensive consequences such lockouts can have.

These cases serve as a reminder that while strikes and lockouts are powerful tools in labor relations, they must be exercised within the bounds of law to avoid severe consequences.

Legal Consequences of Unlawful Strikes

Participating in an unlawful strike can have significant implications for employees. They may face disciplinary action, including dismissal, and lose their legal protection against unjust dismissal. They may also lose certain benefits like wages for the period of the strike, and in some cases, might even face legal prosecution.

The legal consequences for participating in an unlawful strike can be dire for employees. They may face disciplinary action from their employer, which could range from a formal reprimand to termination of employment. Further, by engaging in an unlawful strike, they lose the protection against unfair dismissal that labor laws typically provide. This means that if they are dismissed for participating in an unlawful strike, they would have little legal recourse. Moreover, they may also be required to compensate their employer for any losses suffered due to the strike.

Unlawful lockouts can lead to a tough road for employers too. They might face significant penalties and fines, along with the obligation to compensate the workers for lost wages during the lockout period. In extreme cases, employers could even face criminal charges, leading to damage to their reputation and potential revocation of business licenses.

What Makes Strikes and Lockouts Unlawful?

The distinction between a lawful and unlawful strike or lockout is often nuanced, rooted in local labor laws and the specific circumstances surrounding the labor dispute. A strike or lockout can be deemed unlawful if it violates any of the statutory requirements or restrictions, for instance:

  • If the labor dispute pertains to a matter that is not a subject of mandatory bargaining or if it is about an issue addressed in an existing collective bargaining agreement.

  • If the strike or lockout is declared without following the necessary procedural steps such as failing to give prior notice, not obtaining majority approval in a secret ballot, etc.

  • If the strike or lockout involves violent or coercive behavior.

  • If the strike is conducted by government employees, especially those providing essential services, in jurisdictions where such strikes are explicitly prohibited.

Provisions in Different Labor Laws

Different countries have varying labor laws regulating strikes and lockouts. It's crucial for both employees and employers to understand the provisions of their respective jurisdiction to avoid the adverse consequences of unlawful actions.

The specific provisions relating to strikes and lockouts differ from one jurisdiction to another. For example, in some countries, labor laws provide for 'protected' strikes and lockouts, for which the participants cannot be held liable. These are typically actions that are carried out in compliance with specific procedural requirements, such as conducting a secret ballot, or giving the other party prior notice. Conversely, strikes or lockouts that do not meet these requirements are deemed 'unprotected' or unlawful, and expose the participants to legal penalties.


The labor law landscape is complex, and navigating it requires understanding its nuances. Unlawful strikes and lockouts can lead to serious legal consequences. By understanding these risks, employees and employers can make informed decisions and contribute to a harmonious workplace.

Understanding the complexities of labor law, and in particular the provisions relating to strikes and lockouts, is crucial for both employers and employees. It not only helps in safeguarding their respective rights and interests but also contributes to maintaining a peaceful and productive workplace environment.

While strikes and lockouts are an inherent part of labor relations, they must be conducted within the confines of the law to avoid negative repercussions. Unlawful strikes and lockouts not only attract legal penalties but can also result in long-term harm to labor relations, making their avoidance an important goal for all parties involved. Therefore, knowledge about the legal framework governing these actions is a valuable tool in the arsenal of labor relations.

Subhash Ahlawat
Subhash Ahlawat
Jul 04
5 min read