Articles Posted in Union and Labor Issues

The NLRB issued another social-media decision last week, finding that an employer violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) with respect to one “Facebook firing” but clearing the employer with respect to a second termination.  I’ll leave it to my blogging cohorts to write about the termination that didn’t get the employer into trouble and will focus in today’s post just the one that did.Employment Law Cookies_3

The Facebook firing that landed the employer, a Maryland ambulance company, in hot water was in response to an employee’s comment, posted on a former co-worker’s Facebook page.  The former co-worker, the complainant’s partner, posted on her Facebook page a note indicating that she’d been fired by the employer.  The complainant, William Norvell, and others, posted comments in response.  One of Norvell’s comments was a suggestion that his former co-worker get a lawyer and take the company to court.  Later, he added that she also “could contact the labor board.”  Someone turned over a printed copy of the posts to the HR Director who, after consulting with the COO, decided to terminate Norvell.

I hope it doesn’t surprise most readers that the Board was not happy about the decision to terminate and found that the termination violated the NLRA.  One of the basic foundations of employment law is this:

The NLRB’s social-media war has been front and center for employers since 2010.  Decisions by administrative law judges and by the Board itself, as well as advisory memoranda from the Acting General Counsel have created an impossible patchwork of prohibitions and rules that, if followed, would make managing an efficient workforce effectively impossible.  And it doesn’t stop there.

But social media hasn’t been the only target in the NLRB’s sights. There have been a series of decisions and other events that, if taken seriously, make the NLRB seem more out of touch than ever.  The Board’s positions have become so extreme that, in my opinion, they’re likely to work to employers’ advantage as the public disgust grows. Here are a few of the reasons that I believe the NLRB is likely its own worst enemy.

NLRB Message No. 1:  Racist Language and Racially Insensitive Displays In the Workplace Are Perfectly Acceptable

What does the NLRB have against handbooks? Doesn’t the Board have policies and procedures for its employees? I imagine it does, don’t you? So why does the Board continue to find fault with employers’ workplace policies?

The Board’s recent Order has my head spinning like I spent the afternoon on a roller coaster. In GCA Services Group, Inc.,, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 99, AFL-CIO, filed a UPL, contesting the legality of various provisions in the employer’s handbook. The employer and the Union resolved the dispute by a Formal Settlement Stipulation, which was approved by the Board on January 16, 2013.

As a result of the Stipulation, the employer must remove the disputed provisions from the hourly-employee handbook, which, according to the Board’s Order, are “overly broad and discriminatory.”

Last week, I posted about the decision of an ALJ finding that Quicken Loans’ confidentiality and non-disparagement provisions contained in its employment contracts violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Before the new year, though, the NLRB gave us some indication about its position with respect to confidentiality in the workplace. In short, it is not a fan.

box of chocolates.jpgOn December 28, 2012, the NLRB announced its decision in American Baptist Homes of the West d/b/a Piedmont Gardens. In that decision, the Board overruled a decision from 1978, which established a categorical exemption for witness statements made during a workplace investigation. Under that long-standing precedent, an employer did not have to provide such witness statements to the union representing an employee concerning discipline.

Well, not anymore. Under the new decision, which found that the bright-line rule established in Anheuser-Busch, Inc., should be replaced by a balancing test. The Board found that the NLRA imposes on an employer a “general obligation” to furnish a union with relevent information necessary to perform its duties. Under the new balancing test, the employer will have to determine whether it has “any legitimate and substantial confidentiality interests.”

Just when you think the NLRA has been expanded as far as it can possibly go, POP!! Along comes a decision yet again expanding the reach of the NLRA and limiting the ability of employers to manage their workforces. The latest such expansion comes from an Administrative Law Judge in an unfair labor practice charge filed against

The NLRB issued its decision today in Karl Knauz Motors, Inc. Readers will recall that the employee at Knauz’s BMW dealership filed a charge alleging that he had been unlawfully terminated for engaging in NLRA-protected activity when he was fired for comments he’d made on his Facebook page. The employee-salesman first posted critical comments about the dealership’s plans for a big sales event. Shortly thereafter, the employee posted pictures of a small vehicle accident involving a customer at the Range Rover dealership next door, which was also owned by Karl Knauz. The employer fired the salesman when a competitor reported the photographs.

An ALJ determined that the employee had engaged in protected concerted activity when he posted about the sales event. He was not engaged in protected activity when he posted the accident pictures because, “It was posted solely by [the employee], apparently as a lark, without any discussion with any other employee of the Respondent and had no connection to any of the employees’ terms and conditions of employment.”

The Board’s decision, dated September 28 and released today, found that the termination did not violate the NLRA because the activity was not concerted or protected. This is a small victory for employers–but a victory, nonetheless. There has been a great deal of activity at the NLRB in the recent weeks and we can expect more in the weeks to come.

Last week was a busy one at the Governor’s office, where Governor Jerry Brown signed into law no less than three new laws with a pro-labor, pro-employee theme. The first two laws were a package deal, making California is the first State to enact legislation that prohibits employers and educators from requesting employees’ and students’ social-networking passwords. Gov. Brown announced that he’d signed the twin bills into law via a Twitter post on Thursday.

Seal of California.pngCalifornia is the second State after Delaware to prohibit universities and colleges from requiring students to turn over their passwords to their social-networking accounts. It is the third State, following Maryland and Illinois, to enact similar legislation providing these privacy protections to employees and applicants. And similar legislation is pending in several States. New Jersey’s version of the Facebook-privacy law was released by a Senate committee at the end of September.

The day after Gov. Brown signed the bills into law, he signed a third bill, which declared May to be Labor History Month. What, you ask, does this actually mean? Well, it means that school districts in the State will commemorate the month with educational exercises intended to teach students about the role of the labor movement in California and across the country.

The NLRB continues to whittle away the ability of employers to manage the operations of their businesses. In the past two years, the NLRB and its Acting General Counsel have issued a slew of opinions and advisory memoranda in which they’ve proclaimed various workplace rules to be in violation of the NLRA. Many of the rules they’ve found to be unlawful have been standard issue in workplaces around the country for many years. And many employers (and employers’ lawyers) believe that the NLRB’s interpretation of the Act is alarmingly overbroad.

The latest decision that threatens the workplace as we know it was issued last week, on September 7. In Costco Wholesale Corporation, Case 3A-CA-012421, 358 NLRB No. 106, Chairman Pearce and Members Griffin and Block overturned the ruling of an Administrative Law Judge. There were several workplace rules at issue in the case but the one of particular interest to me read as follows:

[S]tatements posted electronically . . . that damage the Company, defame any individual or damage any person’s reputation, or violate the policies outlined in the Costco Employee Agreement may be subject to discipline, up to and including termination of employment.

A recent decision by the NLRB has many employers (and their lawyers) up in arms. It has left me wondering whether maybe the Board needs a dictionary. Blacks-Law-Dictionary.jpg

In Banner Health Systems, 358 NLRB 93 (2012), the Board held that an employer’s instruction to employees to keep information confidential during an internal investigation violated the employee’s Section 7 rights under the NLRA. In that case, an employee filed an internal whistleblower complaint about instructions he’d received from his supervisor that the employee felt would endanger patients. An HR consultant told the employee not to discuss the matter with co-workers while it was being investigated.

The ALJ held that this prohibition did not violate the NLRA but the NLRB disagreed.

Continuing the FLSA theme from last week, today’s post is about the impact of a recent decision by the 5th Circuit in Martin v. Spring Break Productions, LLC, No. 11-30671 (5th Cir. July 24, 2012). The relevant facts of the Martin decision are very simple. Employees filed a grievance with their Union, in which they alleged that they had not been paid for all time worked. The Union investigated the claims but concluded that it could not determine whether or not the employees had worked on the days alleged. The Union and the employer entered into a settlement agreement to resolve the dispute.

The agreement recognized that “disputes remain[ed] between the parties as to the amounts that may be due.” Despite the disputes, the agreement prohibited the employees from pursuing future legal action against the employer after receiving their settlement payments. The agreement was not signed by, nor was it intended to be signed by the employees themselves but, instead, by the Union on the employees’ behalf. The agreement expressly provided that the Union had the full power and authority to enter into the settlement on the employees’ behalf.

Before the agreement was signed by the Union, the employees filed suit in California state court. The employer removed the suit to federal court. The court dismissed the claims based on the settlement agreement. The employees appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, where they made two arguments with respect to the settlement agreement.

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