There is a good chance your company’s employee handbook contains an employment at-will policy. Maybe the policy has been in place so long you flip right over it when working with other sections of your handbook. However, the NLRB has entered the picture when it comes to employment at-will policies, and it is time to look at your at-will policy with a fresh set of eyes.
If your company is not unionized, it is likely the vast majority of employees at the company are employed on an at-will basis. In a simplified “nutshell,” employment at-will means the employee is free to resign at any time, and the employer can discharge the employee at any time for any reason or no reason (so long, of course, as the discharge is not for an illegal reason).
Employment at-will arrangements provide flexibility, and most employers prefer such relationships to employment contracts for a specified duration. As a result, it is very common for employers to have employment at-will policies that are reiterated in employee handbooks.
Everyone knows the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) deals with unions and collective bargaining agreements. So, what does the NLRB have to do with employment at-will policies? What does the NLRB have to do with policies for non-union workforces?
The NLRB administers the National Labor Relations Act (“the Act”). Section 7 of the Act provides that employees have “the right to self organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations …and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection…” This portion of the Act applies to both union and non-union workforces. So, even if your company is not unionized, the Section 7 right to engage in concerted activities for the purpose of mutual aid or protection applies to company employees.
So, what should you do? You should have your at-will policy and handbook acknowledgement language reviewed with a fresh set of eyes. Ensure they are consistent with recent NLRB developments. And while you are at it, review your handbook and policies to ensure consistency in other areas of recent focus by the NLRB, including the treatment of confidentiality provisions, off-duty access rules, and social media policies.
This article appeared in the December 2012 issue of HR Professionals of Greater Memphis.