As employment and labor attorneys in South Carolina, our lawyers oftentimes assist employers in drafting handbooks and work rules. An employee handbook is an important communication tool between employers and employees. Employers frequently create employee handbooks with the intention of creating expectations of both the employee and employer. Employers include topics such as anti-discrimination policies, compensation guidelines, work schedule, non-disclosure agreements and standards of conduct. Though these policies are often well-intentioned, they must comply with the rights of employees to communicate with one another as set forth by the federal government. More specifically, on April 29, 2016, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that employers don’t have the right to prohibit employees from arguing with each other or recording each other, nor can employers require employees to communicate in a manner “conducive to effective working relationships.”
Employees Must be Able to Communicate Somewhat Freely Amongst Themselves
By way of background, the NLRB was created by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). In 1935, Congress enacted the NLRA to protect employees’ and employers’ rights, encourage collective bargaining and curb certain private sector labor and management practices that could harm the general welfare of workers, businesses and the economy. The NLRB functions as an independent federal agency that protects the rights of private sector employees to join together, with or without a union, to improve their wages and working conditions and to enforce relevant portions of the NLRA. Aside from protecting workers’ rights to collectively bargain, the NLRA also protects workers’ rights to engage in protected activities for mutual aid or protection – this means employees must be able to communicate somewhat freely amongst themselves.
Recent NLRB Ruling
In its recent ruling, the NLRB decided that employee handbook policies that intended to avoid argumentative, contentious or even negative work environments were too broadly written and violated workers’ rights under the NLRA. More specifically, the ambiguity of the provisions violated the NLRA in four ways:
- Maintaining an over broad policy that prohibited non-approved individuals’ access to information or information resources without written approval;
- Maintaining a commitment to integrity provision that prohibited arguing with coworkers, subordinates or supervisors;
- Requiring employees to maintain a positive work environment by communicating in a manner that is conducive to effective working relationships; and
- Prohibiting workers from recording people or confidential information.
To put it plainly, the NLRB ruled that the employers’ handbooks in this decision broadly and overly restricted access to information and communication among workers, so much so that they violated the NLRA. This decision by the NLRB means that employers may need to review their employee handbooks under this new guidance. Well-intentioned or not, rules in the workplace must respect the rights of employees set forth by the NLRA. If you have questions about your employee handbook or would like an experienced attorney from GSB Law to review your handbook or assist you in drafting a handbook that complies with the ever-changing employment law landscape, call our office today.