Earlier this month the NLRB reversed its decision in Lutheran Heritage Village-Livonia. In doing so the Board set a new standard for review which is more employer-friendly.
Under the prior Lutheran Heritage standard, the Board found that employers violated the NLRA by maintaining workplace rules that do not explicitly prohibit protected activities, were not adopted in response to such activities, and were not applied to restrict such activities, if the rules would be “reasonably construed” by an employee to prohibit the exercise of NLRA rights.
In place of the Lutheran Heritage “reasonably construe” standard, the Board established a new test: when evaluating a facially neutral policy, rule or handbook provision that, when reasonably interpreted, would potentially interfere with the exercise of NLRA rights, the Board will evaluate two things: (i) the nature and extent of the potential impact on NLRA rights, and (ii) legitimate justifications associated with the rule.
The Board also announced that, prospectively, three categories of rules will be delineated to provide greater clarity and certainty to employees, employers, and unions.
• Category 1 will include rules that the Board designates as lawful to maintain, either because (i) the rule, when reasonably interpreted, does not prohibit or interfere with the exercise of NLRA rights; or (ii) the potential adverse impact on protected rights is outweighed by justifications associated with the rule. Examples of Category 1 rules are the no-camera requirement maintained by Boeing, and rules requiring employees to abide by basic standards of civility. Thus, the Board overruled past cases in which the Board held that employers violated the NLRA by maintaining rules requiring employees to foster “harmonious interactions and relationships” or to maintain basic standards of civility in the workplace.
• Category 2 will include rules that warrant individualized scrutiny in each case as to whether the rule would prohibit or interfere with NLRA rights, and if so, whether any adverse impact on NLRA-protected conduct is outweighed by legitimate justifications.
• Category 3 will include rules that the Board will designate as unlawful to maintain because they would prohibit or limit NLRA-protected conduct, and the adverse impact on NLRA rights is not outweighed by justifications associated with the rule. An example would be a rule that prohibits employees from discussing wages or benefits with one another.
Applying the new standard, the Board concluded that Boeing lawfully maintained a no-camera rule that prohibited employees from using camera-enabled devices to capture images or video without a valid business need and an approved camera permit. The Board majority reasoned that the rule potentially affected the exercise of NLRA rights, but that the impact was comparatively slight and outweighed by important justifications, including national security concerns.
While this standard is more employer-friendly, employers should be mindful that applying a lawful workplace rule or policy to an employee that has engaged in NLRA-protected activity may be unlawful, depending on the circumstances. As always, when in doubt consult with your lawyer.
Happy New Year!