Human Resources News & Insights

Recommended reading: Chamber of Commerce slams NLRB in new report

Finally, we’ve got it in writing: The National Labor Relations Board’s employee handbook guidelines defy logic.  

The confirmation comes in the form of the aptly named Theater of the Absurd: The NLRB Takes on the Employee Handbookwhich was recently released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative.

The report reviews cases in which the NLRB has negated a wide range of reasonable workplace rules, such as requests to act courteously, and rules to protect sensitive confidential and proprietary information. For those looking for examples of crackbrain NLRB reasoning, it’s an embarrassment of riches.

The authors illustrate numerous examples of the whimsical way the NLRB interprets policy language. For instance, the report offers a sampling of company policies the NLRB has ruled on:

Illegal Handbook Policy: “You must not disclose proprietary or confidential information about [the Employer, or] other associates (if the proprietary or confidential information relating to [the Employer’s] associates was obtained in violation of law or lawful Company policy).”

Legal Handbook Policy: “Misuse or unauthorized disclosure of confidential information not otherwise available to persons or firms outside [Employer] is cause for disciplinary action, including termination.”

Illegal Handbook Policy: “[Be] respectful to the company, other employees, customers, partners, and competitors.”

Legal Handbook Policy: “Each employee is expected to work in a cooperative manner with management/supervision, co-workers, customers and vendors.”

Illegal Handbook Policy: Do not make “insulting, embarrassing, hurtful or abusive comments about other company employees online,” and “avoid the use of offensive, derogatory, or prejudicial comments.”

Legal Handbook Policy: No “use of racial slurs, derogatory comments, or insults.”

All clear now?

‘Inexplicable interpretation’

As the examples above indicate, the report cites numerous cases where the NLRB found that policies against disruptive behavior including intimidation, harassment, insubordination, and profanity were unlawful. Additionally, the study looks at situations in which the agency voided policies requesting that:

  • employees treat co-workers and customers with respect
  • asked employees to keep workplace investigations confidential, and
  • sought to protect trade secrets.

“The NLRB is using an inexplicable interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act to strike down commonplace handbook policies,” Glenn Spencer, vice president of WFI, said in a press release. “Employers shouldn’t be sanctioned for seeking to maintain stable, well-run workplaces that are free of harassment and discourteous behavior.”

We’re not sure what effect the Chamber report will have — certainly the NLRB isn’t changing course anytime soon. But Theater of the Absurd will certainly get a warm welcome from employers across the country.

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