A Whole New Era for Employee Handbooks

Your Company Employee Handbook is Probably Illegal.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) general counsel released on March 18, 2015 a document with advice to employers on ensuring their companies employee handbook is legal. The core concern has been protecting workers “Section 7” rights; the right to engage in protected union-related activities.

Why Companies Have Handbooks

For years smart employers have used employee handbooks as a baseline for establishing acceptable employee behaviors and actions. Defining and communicating the workplace rules and expectations allowed employers to direct their workforce towards behaviors that benefit the company and its employees. It also provides a solid baseline for disciplinary behavior when the guidelines are not followed. This provides legal and ethical protections for the company against complaints of arbitrary management decisions or discrimination.

New Support for the Right to Organize (Unionize)

The memo from NLRB general counsel Richard F. Griffith, Jr concerns protecting the right to take part in union-related activity (workers’ “Section 7″ rights) and focuses on rules in existing company employee handbooks that may infringe on this right. The intention is to make any company rule that an employee could in any way interpret as limiting their ability to engage in union and union-related activities no longer permissible. If this sounds simple, it’s not. The memo addresses illegal company rules related to media communications, social media usage, cell phone video and audio recording, confidentiality, “Being respectful”, insubordination, politics and religion, email content, company logos and trademarks… etc. In each case the memo identifies examples of illegal company policies that could be interpreted as chilling the section 7 rights of employees and as such are illegal. The confusion for employers is troubling.

Wendys, now serving modified employee handbook rules

Now Serving a New Employee Handbook - Wendys

Now Serving a New Employee Handbook – Wendys

Discussed frequently in the memo is review of the employee handbook at Wendy’s restaurants and the provisions found to be illegally suppressing the Section 7 right of employees.  Also referenced are suits involving Super K-Mart and Flamingo Hilton.

Read the memorandum from the NLRB

Who Should Be Concerned?

All HR Professionals, Employers and Professional Employer Organizations should quickly become well versed in the new advisory from the NLRB general counsel. Since PEOs are considered the expert advisor for their small business clients, current PEO clients should discuss any required changes with their PEO contact.