The National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, is one of the most important U.S. government agencies so far as human resources functions are concerned. This board deals with the investigation and enforcement of labor practices as well as the regulation of unions across the nation. As such, court rulings related to the NLRB have a strong impact on companies and business functions. Here is an overview of how court rulings and the NLRB impact business and relate to you and your HR practices.
Court Rulings and the NLRB
A recent report to the General Counsel identified a number of common issues that the NLRB has cited as lawful and/or unlawful in terms of business practices and behavior. These rulings have had a major impact on how employee handbooks are designed and implemented.
Unlawful Confidentiality Rules
Many employers, in an effort to be thorough and cover themselves in terms of confidentiality and employee handbooks, are overzealous and enact unlawful practices and standards. The NLRB is careful to regulate these things. For example, you cannot forbid employees to discuss wages, hours or the conditions and terms of their employment with any other person. You cannot include broad or overly generalized restrictions.
Specific rules that have been found to restrict employees’ rights under the law include (but are not limited to) those which forbid them to discuss customer or employee information outside of work (this is too blanket and broad in implementation), those which forbid the disclosure of “proprietary or confidential information” regarding the employer or associates that was obtained in violation of the law or legal company policies (this is again too broad and nonspecific as to what constitutes an associate or lawful company policy).
Lawful Confidentiality Rules
Lawful versions of the rules above would be forbidding employees from unauthorized disclosure of information that is specifically declared confidential or a business secret, or disclosing information that would not otherwise be available to non-employees. The difference here is that these rules are both simpler, clearer and more defined in their implementation.
Unlawful Interaction and Conduct Rules
Rules regarding employee interaction and conduct with peers and employers have also recently come under scrutiny. For example, very generalized and overly restrictive rules such as, “Be respectful,” “Do not make fun of your co-workers” and the like can easily interfere on freedom of expression rights. Rules like, “Refrain from actions that would cause damage to our reputation” attempt to regulate workers’ off-hours lives, which is not permissible.
Lawful Conduct Rules
Lawful versions of such rules, by contrast, include a prohibition on rude or unprofessional behavior towards customers or those in contact with the business, or prohibiting discourteous or disrespectful behavior towards the public or customers while engaging in company business. Such rules lay down a generally understood code of behavior and restrict the provisions to “while in the scope of business.”
Requirements set by court rulings and the NLRB can be tricky and difficult to understand. That’s why it can be very important to have a professional HR review the language of company policies, Employee Handbooks and Employee Agreements.