Tag Archives: NLRA

NLRB Establishes More Employer-Friendly Standard Governing Workplace Policies

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!
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Social Media and the Law

Below is  a link to a recent interview I did with WBIR in Knoxville about social media and the law.  Happy New Year! http://www.wbir.com/story/news/local/2015/01/07/more-employers-adding-social-media-policies/21373181/

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Social Media Postings That Justify Termination

Employers must be careful before they fire or discipline an employee because of his or her comments on social media.  As a general rule, if multiple employees are using social media to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment, or one employee is using social media to speak on behalf of other employees about the terms and conditions of employment, that conduct is likely protected as “concerted activity” under the NLRA.  In fact, recent NLRA decisions have shown that a social media posting by one employee about the terms and conditions of employment which is “liked” or “favorited” by other employees is likely protected as concerted activity.

Despite these constraints certain types of social media posts provide a legitimate basis for termination.  These posts include the following:

  • Insubordination – Two newly hired employees of a teen center used Facebook to discuss how they would ignore the employer’s rules and allow the teens to “graffiti the walls”, among other things.  The NLRB held these threats of insubordination justified termination in its recent decision in Richmond District Neighborhood Center.
  • Threats of Violence – Credible threats of violence or comments which lead to genuine safety concerns in the workplace (e.g. “I’m bringing a bomb to work”) will likely not be protected activity.
  • Individual Gripes – If the employees are just airing individual gripes or venting their personal frustration and not trying to address an overall workplace problem, the behavior will likely not be protected as concerted activity.  A prime example is the NLRB decision in Skinsmart Dermatology, where the terminated employee posted in a Facebook group message that the employer was “full of s—“ and wrote “FIRE ME . . . make my day.

Before an employer takes any action based on a social media post it needs to determine what is being said and how many employees are joining in the discussion.  That information is the key to determining what action, if any, should be taken.

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Employee Who Posted FIRE ME on Facebook Gets Her Wish

The NLRB recently held that the termination of an employee because of disparaging comments she posted about the employer  in a group message on Facebook did not violate the NLRA.  The comments contained derogatory language and expletives, and included “FIRE ME” and “Make my day”.

The NLRB held that the comments reflected the employee’s personal contempt for her co-worker and her supervisor and not shared employee concerns about terms and conditions of employment.  Therefore, the employee did not engage in concerted activity under Section 7 of the NLRA.

Before taking action against an employee because of  comments on social media, employers need to consider several factors.  These include, but are not limited to, the following: What is the content of the message? Are the comments based on the terms and conditions of employment?  Is the employee acting alone or with or on the authority of other employees?  Is there a legitimate problem at work that needs to be addressed?

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Is Your Confidentiality Policy Legal?

Most employers have a confidentiality policy that is distributed to all employees.  Most of those policies broadly define confidential information.  But if your policy defines confidential information to include employee wages and salaries is it legal?

A confidentiality policy that prohibits employees from discussing wages, salaries or other terms and conditions of employment is illegal because it violates the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  This fact was reinforced in a recent ruling  against Aerotek Inc. after two of its recruiters in Nebraska told several employees they were not allowed to disucss their wages as a condition of employment.

Employers need to make sure that their confidentiality policy gives specific examples of what constitutes confidential information, such as business plans and profit margins, and does not prohibit employees from discussing their wages, salaries, working conditions or other terms and conditions of employment.

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