On March 18, the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a lengthy report summarizing recent developments in the context of employer handbook policies. As we have discussed in a number of our previous posts, over the past two years, the NLRB has been aggressively reviewing employer handbook policies addressing a variety of topics, including confidentiality, social media, use of employer email systems for non-work related solicitations, and employee behavior and conduct rules. What has emerged from these cases is a pattern wherein the NLRB finds unlawful seemingly innocuous, business sensible policies, such as, for example, prohibiting the unauthorized distribution of confidential employer information, because, in its opinion, those policies could be interpreted to chill employees’ right to engage in certain types of concerted activity deemed protected under the National Labor Relations Act.
The General Counsel’s memorandum, GC 15-04, examines employer policies across a broad spectrum, highlighting policies the General Counsel found to be unlawful and those deemed by the General Counsel to be acceptable under the law. The memorandum also offers guidance in the form of “model” policies addressing social media, confidentiality, conflicts of interest, cell phone use, and other areas that presumably, if implemented, would be deemed lawful by the NLRB (or at least would not be prosecuted as violations by the General Counsel).
The report, although lengthy at 30 pages, is a must-read for all employers, union and non-union. It offers perhaps the best insight to date on what has become an increasingly perplexing area of the law, as employers have struggled to read the tea leaves and assess the NLRB’s probable interpretation of what, in many cases, are long-standing policies that heretofore have never posed any issue. With this memo, employers now have what would appear to be concrete guidance on what their policies can say without running afoul of the National Labor Relations Act.