Are the Handbook Police (Finally) Standing Down?

McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC
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We have been talking about the National Labor Relations Board’s assault on Employee Handbooks, policies and rules for years now.  Frankly, precious few of these posts have contained good news for employers.  See for yourself!

Then, last week, in a 3-2 vote (split along party lines) a Republican majority overturned the NLRB’s 2004 Lutheran Heritage standard governing facially-neutral workplace rules, policies and handbooks.  Under the old standard, the Board could find that an employer violated the National Labor Relations Act simply by maintaining a policy that could be “reasonably construed” by an employee to prohibit the exercise of rights protected by the Act – even if the employer never applied it to restrict employee rights!  What the Board put in that “reasonably construed” category did not seem reasonable to many, many employers and, in my opinion, was extremely one-sided.

In announcing the new standard, in a decision involving the Boeing Company the majority announced that it was providing greater clarity and criticized the prior Board for invalidating “common sense rules and requirements” under the Lutheran Heritage standard.

Not only is there more clarity, there is balance.  Rather than considering only how the facially-neutral policy, rule or handbook provision could be “reasonably construed” the Board will consider two things:

  1. The nature and extent of the potential impact on employee rights protected by the NLRA and
  2. The employer’s legitimate justifications associated with the rule

The Board also categorized the rules:

  1. Category 1. Lawful rules, where the rule does not expressly prohibit or interfere with NLRA rights or the potential adverse impact on protected rights is outweighed by the employer’s justifications for the rule.  Examples offered by the Board in this category are the no-cameras in the workplace rules and the civility rules.  Remember this one on courtesy?  Please and thank you (you can say that now)!
  2. Category 2. Rules which require individualized scrutiny to determine whether any adverse impact on NLRA rights is outweighed by the employer’s legitimate justifications.
  3. Category 3. Unlawful rules that prohibit protected conduct and the impact on those employee rights is not outweighed by employer justification.  Here, is where the policies prohibiting employees from discussing wages and benefits would fall.

This is good news, for union and non-union employers alike.  Seems that the NLRB will be focusing less on policing innocuous handbook policies and, perhaps, the pendulum will begin swinging back.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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