Saturday, March 28, 2015

NLRB Launches New Comprehensive Attack Against Employee Handbook Provisions



In previous posts, such as “NLRB says ‘No Workplace Secrets Allowed!’” I noted that in recent years, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) has taken an aggressive “bigfoot” approach against many commonly utilized employee handbook policies.  The NLRB’s justification for filing complaints against employers was that overbroad language in employee handbooks purportedly violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).  

The first notable example was when the NLRB used the same rationale to find many employers’ social media policies to be in violation of the NLRA.  Another lesson employers learned from the NLRB’s assault on workplace social media policies is that an employer can be found in violation on the basis of an overbroad policy alone, even if there is no action taken against an employee for violation of the policy.  As many employers also learned from the NLRB’s social media focus, even non-union employers can be found in violation of the NLRA. 

Earlier this month, the NLRB issued a 30-page report intended to offer guidance to employers in drafting handbook provisions that will withstand the NLRB’s scrutiny.  The NLRB states the report is intended to address what it describes as “an evolving area of labor law.” This includes routine and longstanding employment policies that the NLRB believes have a chilling effect on employees’ concerted activities protected by Section 7 of the NLRA.

What types of handbook policies have drawn the NLRB’s ire? Examples include employer confidentiality provisions that forbid employee disclosure of “employee information” or “ another’s confidential or other proprietary information.”  The NLRB believes such policies are overbroad when they are not narrowly tailored to protect trade secrets or proprietary information as opposed to violating Section 7 by forbidding discussion of wages or other terms and conditions of employment among employees.  The NLRB report also considers policies that call for employees to be respectful of others in the company or to avoid derogatory comments to also be overbroad and possibly constitute a violation of Section 7. The NLRB report stresses that violations will be found for “even well-intentioned rules”, even when there is no intent to violate Section 7. 

The NLRB’s release of the comprehensive report can reasonably be seen as a warning of another round of aggressive action by the NLRB against employers, similar to what was seen when the Board began going after employers for their social media policies.  This should not be a surprise from an exceedingly political Board, which has actively advanced the administration’s extreme pro-union positions. 

In light of the NLRB report, employers would be well advised to promptly conduct a comprehensive review of all handbook policies to revise any potentially overbroad language, so as to avoid showing up on the NLRB’s radar.  

Mark Fijman is a labor and employment attorney with Phelps Dunbar, LLC, which has offices in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina and London. To view his firm bio, click here. He can be reached at (601) 360-9716 and by e-mail at fijmanm@phelps.com