The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently issued a decision that may require many companies in the hospitality industry to revise the language in their current employee policy handbook (DirecTV U.S. DirecTV Holdings LLC, 359 N.L.R.B. No. 54, 1/25/13).
The International Association of Machinists filed an unfair labor practice charge against DirecTV, the satellite television provider, alleging that the company terminated a dish installation worker because of his pro-union support, which included making comments backing unionization at a mandatory meeting held by the company. In ruling that the company had wrongfully discharged the worker basely solely on his pro-union sentiment, the Board reviewed the company’s relevant handbook polices, finding several to be so broad that they were in violation of the National Labor Relation Act (NLRA). Listed below are several key excerpts from the company’s handbook, and the accompanying rulings on their legality. Even though this case occurred outside of the hospitality industry the legal rulings regarding the employer’s handbook are relevant.
The handbook provision entitled “Communications and Representing DIRECTV” instructed employees, “Do not contact the media,” and “Employees should not contact or comment to any media about the company unless pre-authorized by Public Relations.” The Board ruled that this language was too broad and appeared to prohibit employee communications concerning wages, hours, or terms of employment, all of which are protected by the NLRA. Therefore, companies in the hospitality industry need to replace general prohibitions of contacting the media with language that does not violate employee rights under the NLRA.
The handbook provision also told employees to “[n]ever discuss details about your job, company business or work projects with anyone outside the company.” The Board ruled that this language could be interpreted to prohibit employees from speaking with union representatives or Board agents, which are both protected activities under the NLRA.
Another provision instructed employees that are approached by “law enforcement” attempting to “obtain information regarding a DIRECTV employee” to contact the company’s security department, which would handle the contact. Here, the NLRB ruled that an employee could interpret this to include a Board agent investigating workplace conditions and procedures, which cannot be prohibited.
Finally, the company’s online activity policy informed employees they “may not blog, enter chat rooms, post messages on public websites or otherwise disclose company information that is not already disclosed as a public record.” This language, the Board ruled, was ambiguous and unlawful because it could be interpreted to prohibit an employee from discussing wages, workplace conditions, or employee records.
In light of the position the Board appears to be taking, it is recommended that employers review the language in their policy handbooks concerning these topics to be sure they are not overly broad. If they can be reasonably viewed as prohibiting protected employee activities under the NLRA, they will need to be revised. Be advised that employees have a right to discuss wages, workplace conditions, and the terms of their employment.
To learn more about employee rights protected by the NLRB, click here (http://www.nlrb.gov/rights-we-protect/employee-rights).