As we have discussed on a number of prior occasions (Fifth Circuit Rejects The NLRB’s D.R. Horton Decision On Arbitration Waivers; Obama’s Labor Agenda Continues to Advance – Griffin Confirmed as NLRB GC; NLRB Administrative Law Judge Finds Medical Center’s Technology Usage Policies Violated Employees Rights Under the National Labor Relations Act. and Labor Law vs. Common Sense – NLRB Continues Targeting Non-Union Employers and Common Sense) the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” ) and its Administrative Law Judges continue to find that employment policies designed to provide protection to employers and employees may be unfair labor practices (ULPs) under the Act.
In Boch Imports, Inc. d.b.a. Boch Honda and International Ass’n of Machinists, Case No. 1-CA-83551 (Jan. 13, 2014), the ALJ ruled that multiple provisions in the employee handbook of a retail automobile dealership (“Boch” or “Company”) constituted ULPs in violation of of the National Labor Relations Act (“Act”) because they impinged on the employees’ rights to discuss their conditions of employment and to engage in concerted activities. The ALJ targeted the following policies:
- Confidential and Proprietary Information. This provision included a prohibition barring employees “from disclosing or authorizing the disclosure or use of any “Confidential Information,” including “compensation structures and incentive programs.”
- Discourtesy. This provision included a prohibition of employees ,“use of profanity or disrespect to a … co-worker or engaging in any activity which could harm the image of the Company. . . .”
- Inquiries Concerning Employees. This provision included a prohibition barring employees from providing, “personal information of any nature concerning another employee (including references) to any outside source unless approved by the Human Resources Department and authorized, in writing by the employee . . . .”
- Social Media Policy.This policy included provisions that:
- prohibited employees from disclosing any information about the Company’s employees or customers;
- required employees to identify themselves when posting comments about the Company or its business;
- prohibited employees from referring to the Company in postings that would negatively impact the Company’s reputation or brand;
- prohibited employees from engaging in activities that could have a negative effect on the Company, even if occurring off Company property or off the clock;
- prohibited employees from using the Company’s logos for any reason;
- prohibited employees from posting videos or photos recorded in the workplace;
- required employees to contact the Company’s Vice President of Operations before making statements to the media;
- required employees to provide the Company with access to any commentary posted by employees on social media sites; and
- required employees to write and post respectfully.
- Solicitation and Distribution. This provision restricted non-employees from soliciting and distributing literature or other materials at any time on property adjacent to the Company’s premises.
- Dress Code and Personnel Hygiene. This provision barred, “Employees who have contact with the public” from wearing “pins, insignias, or other message clothing which are not provided to them by the Company . . . .”
The ALJ upheld the ban on the wearing of pins because of the potential for pins to cause accidental damage to vehicles (e.g., by falling into an engine or scratching a vehicle’s interior or exterior). The ALJ ruled, however, that the blanket prohibition to insignias on clothing constituted a ULP because customer exposure to insignias, “alone, is not a special circumstance allowing the employer to prohibit the display.” Rather, “There are numerous factors that need to be weighed to determine whether a displayed item constitutes special circumstances and should be permitted, including size and the message thereon.”
The Boch decision addresses many, but not all, of the employer policies that the NLRB has been targeting recently. In December 2013, for example, an ALJ found that an employer’s “No Gossip Policy” constituted a ULP. In Laurus Technical Institute and Joslyn Henderson, Case 10-CA-093934 (Dec. 11, 2013). The employer, a school, had fired an employee for violating the school’s no-gossip policy, which defined “gossip” as including:
- talking about a person’s professional life without his/her supervisor present;
- negative, or untrue, or disparaging comments or criticisms of another person or persons; and
- creating, sharing, or repeating a rumor about another person.
The ALJ in that case had no difficulty in finding that the no-gossip policy was overbroad and that the employee’s discharge for violating the policy likewise violated the Act.
The Boch and Laurus decisions illustrate the increased scrutiny that the NLRB has been giving to employee handbooks over the past few years. These and other recent cases show that the NLRB is taking aim at employee handbooks and broadly interpreting whether an employer’s policies and prohibitions would reasonably tend to chill employees in the exercise of their statutory rights under the Act. Accordingly, employers that have not done so recently may wish to consider a handbook review.