Posts tagged with "NLRA"

Employee Handbook Alert: Seemingly Neutral Work Rule May Violate NLRA

The National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) gives private-sector employees the unqualified right to engage in “protected concerted activity” which includes discussing among themselves such things as wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment.  An employer cannot promulgate a work rule that tends reasonably to chill employees’ exercise of that statutory right.

Karl Knauz Motors, Inc. owned and operated a BMW dealership.  Its employee handbook contained the following (apparently common sense) rule:

(b) Courtesy: Courtesy is the responsibility of every employee.  Everyone is expected to be courteous, polite, and friendly to our customers, vendors and suppliers, as well as to their fellow employees.  No one should be disrespectful or use profanity or any other language which injures the image or reputation of the Dealership.

The Board’s Decision

In a September 28, 2012 decision, the National Labor Relations Board for two reasons found the rule unlawful “because employees would reasonably construe its broad prohibition against ‘disrespectful’ conduct and ‘language which injures the image or the reputation of the Dealership’” as including employees’ protected statements objecting to and seeking improvement of terms and conditions of employment.

First, there was nothing in the rule that would reasonably suggest to employees that such protected communications were beyond the rule’s broad reach.  Second, an employee would reasonably assume that the employer would “regard statements of protest or criticism as ‘disrespectful’ or ‘injur[ious] [to] the image or reputation of the Dealership.’”

The Board took particular offense to the second section of the rule as specifically proscribing certain types of conduct and statements.  The Board construed these as workplace “lines” that a Karl Knauz Motors’ employee may not safely cross.  In the Board’s estimation, the second section of the rule prohibits not merely a manner of speaking, but rather the actual content of employee speech—content that would damage the employer’s reputation.

Consequently, a reasonable employee would conclude that protected communications about the employer’s allegedly unlawful terms and conditions of employment would expose the employee to employer sanctions for violation of its handbook rule.  Stated differently, the Board felt that compliance with the first section of the rule offered no assurance against sanctions under the second section of the rule.

Final Takeaway

Historically, NLRB decisions have ebbed and flowed depending upon the current occupant of the White House, who appoints the Board’s members.  Lately, the pendulum has continued to swing in the direction of further limiting employer rights to regulate threatening or offensive employee speech, leading one commentator to question whether at-will employment will be relegated to a historical artifact.

The takeaway from the Board’s decision vector is for employers to examine employee handbooks to compare and contrast their language with that found by the NLRB to be unlawful.  The cost of an amendment pales in comparison with the cost of an NLRB investigation and proceeding.  Remember that the NLRA protects  all private sector employees, irrespective of whether or not they belong to a union.

The employment and labor law attorneys in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in the counseling, negotiation and litigation of all sorts of employment-related issues and assist employers from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield in ensuring compliance with the applicable law. Contact Joseph Maya and the other experienced employment law attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or JMaya@Mayalaw.com to schedule a free initial consultation.

NYC Expands Law to Ensure Employers Provide Adequate Accommodations to Pregnant Employees

According to Day Pitney, an expansion to the New York City Human Rights Law to include pregnancy discrimination will go into effect. Under the new law, NYC employers with four or more employees will have a duty to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women and those who suffer medical conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Reasonable Accommodations

Examples of reasonable accommodations listed in the bill include assistance with manual labor, bathroom breaks, disability leave for a reasonable period of time arising from childbirth, breaks to facilitate increased water intake and periodic rest breaks for those who stand for long periods of time.

The Legislative Intent section of the bill suggests that when an employee requests a reasonable accommodation in order to maintain a healthy pregnancy, it generally is not reasonable for the employer to place that employee on an unpaid leave of absence.

Although the New York City Commission on Human Rights and the New York courts have not yet interpreted or applied this new law, the Legislative Intent section suggests that employers may have a duty to accommodate pregnant employees with medical restrictions by providing such employees modified job duties, assistance to perform certain job duties or alternative job duties.

Accommodation Requirements

An employer is required to provide such accommodations that would permit the employee to perform the “essential requisites of the job,” unless (i) the employer is unaware that the employee is pregnant, has given birth or has a related medical condition; (ii) providing the accommodation will result in an undue hardship for the employer; or (iii) the employee would not be able to perform the essential requisites of the job even with the accommodation.

NYC employers will be required to provide written notice of these new pregnancy and childbirth accommodation rights to new employees at the start of their employment and to existing employees within 120 days of the law’s effective date of January 30, 2014. In addition to providing each individual employee with written notice of these rights, employers also should post in a conspicuous location the poster provided by the New York City Commission on Human Rights. The poster is available here.

Violations of the Law

Employees who believe their employers have violated the new law will have the ability to file a claim with the New York City Commission on Human Rights or pursue a private right of action in court without first exhausting administrative remedies. Remedies for violating the law include back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney fees and costs.

Credit: Basil Sitaras

NLRA’s Employee Rights No Longer Required to be Posted by Employers

You’ve seen the poster right? You know, the large laminated red, white and blue posters filled with size 8 font of your employee rights and posted near lunch areas or the bathrooms? Well, employers are no longer required to post those for their employee’s benefit according to a new Federal Court Holding.

The Posting Requirements

In 2011, the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) published a final rule mandating that all employers subject to the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) post a notice to employees advising them of their rights under the NLRA, including the right to unionize, and listing the Board’s contact information and enforcement procedures. The rule required the Board to find that the failure to post the notice was an unfair labor practice.

In 2013, two U.S. Courts of Appeals (the D.C. Circuit and the Fourth Circuit) invalidated this posting requirement. The Board petitioned both Circuit Courts for en banc hearings. The appeals courts denied these en banc petitions, leaving the Board’s only option to appeal the decisions to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Decision Review

The Board had until January 2, 2014 to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari to seek review of the decisions. The Board did not file a petition for certiorari. On January 6, 2014, the Board announced that it will not seek U.S. Supreme Court review. The decision to not pursue further is welcome news to employers as it is means the notice posting requirement will not go into effect.

The Board announced that it will continue its outreach efforts, notwithstanding that there is no rule requiring employers to notify employees of their rights under the NLRA.

Credit: Rachel Gonzalez