Human Resources News & Insights

Is a ‘no gossip’ policy even legal?

A company sets up a “no gossip” policy to curb workplace rumors — then fires a woman for violating the policy. The National Labor Relations Board then decides to look into the firing to see if it’s legal.

Read the dramatized version of this real-life case and see if you can determine the outcome. 

The scene

“You wanted to see me?” asked employee Rebecca Ryan, standing in HR manager Lynn Rondo’s doorway.

“Yes, come in, and close the door behind you,” said Lynn.

“I’ve received some unfortunate news that you may be violating our ‘no gossip’ policy,” said Lynn.

“Really?” asked Rebecca.

‘We’re suspending you’

“Rebecca, you know the policy,” said Lynn. “‘Employees who participate in or instigate gossip about the company, an employee or a customer will receive disciplinary action that may include termination.’”

“Yet I have it on good authority that you’ve talked negatively about the company, our managers and company policies,” Lynn added.

“What do you have to say to that?” Lynn asked.

“I was talking about the layoffs that had just happened,” said Rebecca. “I feel like that’s a pretty normal thing to talk about.”

“We have to follow company policy here,” said Lynn. “We’re suspending you, with pay, until we can complete a full investigation.”

Lynn investigated the complaints and eventually fired Rebecca.

The National Labor Relations Board responded to Rebecca’s complaint and investigated the company’s “no gossip” policy.

What was the final decision?

The decision

An administrative law judge found in Rebecca’s favor.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that the company’s “no gossip” policy was unlawful.

How? The board said that “the language in the no gossip policy is overly broad, ambiguous, and severely restricts employees from discussing or complaining about any terms and conditions of employment.”

Furthermore, the board took umbrage with the policy’s prohibition of nearly all communications about anyone – including managers and the company.

Finally, the board found that Rebecca’s firing also was unlawful. Discussing the recent layoffs of co-workers constitutes protected concerted activity, said the board.

Steer clear of similar policies

The decision is proof positive that the NLRB is still on the lookout for company policies that prohibit or prevent staffers from discussing workplace conditions.

You may want to limit or prevent gossiping in the workplace, but the takeaway here is that a “no gossip” policy is likely too broad to pass muster with this board.

Better bet to curb gossiping: Talk to perpetrators individually or meet with an entire department to address any ongoing issues.

The decision is Laurus Technical Institute. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

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