Tag Archives: NLRB

A Hint of Change: NLRB Allows Employer to Defend Blanket Prohibition on Use of Cameras/Video Recording Devices

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, May 16, 2017

Recently, there has been much discussion about the composition of the five-member board in Washington, D.C., including President Trump’s appointment of Philip Miscimarra as National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Chairman, and the expected shift from pro-labor initiatives – especially in light of the expiring term of the NLRB General Counsel who was appointed by President Obama. The NLRB recently issued an order that may be a sign of things to come.

No Camera

Camera with a red circle and slash over it

On May 5, a divided NLRB denied the NLRB General Counsel’s motion for summary judgment (a request for judgment as a matter of law where there are no disputed facts) against Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc. (MBUSI), 365 N.L.R.B. No. 67 (May 5, 2017). The General Counsel argued that legal precedent clearly establishes that a company rule prohibiting any use of cameras and video recording devices without prior authorization interferes with employees’ rights to engage in union or protected concerted activity. The General Counsel relied upon the NLRB decisions in Whole Foods Market, 363 NLRB No. 87 , slip op. at 3-5 (Dec. 24, 2015) (in which a similar rule was found unlawfully overbroad) and T-Mobile USA, Inc., 363 NLRB No. 171 , slip op. at 3-5 (April 29, 2016) (same). These decisions state that blanket bans on workplace photography and recordings generally violate the Act.

Mercedes-Benz argued that it should be allowed to show that employees did not interpret the rule to restrict protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and that the rule furthers legitimate business interests, including the protection of proprietary and confidential information, the maintenance of safety and production standards, and open communication. These are nearly identical to the arguments that the board rejected in Whole Foods Market. However, this board majority, including Chairman Miscimarra, agreed that the employer should be allowed to present their evidence at a hearing. Interestingly, they relied upon two decisions in which the employer was ultimately found to have violated the NLRA, including the Whole Foods Market decision.

Bottom line: This NLRB order is notable because it shows some flexibility from the NLRB as to work rules and legitimate business interests – in contrast to recent decisions that many viewed to curb management rights. Ultimately, however, the law has not changed (yet) and the Whole Foods Market decision remains intact. Therefore, before disciplining an employee for taking photos or making recordings in the workplace, you must consider whether the employee’s actions constitute protected activity under the NLRA. Employer policies should remain carefully tailored to specify the restrictions and the business reasons for them. We will be monitoring the developments in this case. Stay tuned.

NLRB Finds Violation for Independent Contractor Misclassification

Contributed by Noah A. Frank, September 22, 2016

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) enforces the National Labor Relations Act, the law that allows private sector employees to address the terms and conditions of their employment (e.g., wages, hours, benefits) through collective action. Through a recently released Advice Memorandum, the NLRB expanded its role to include regulating independent contractor relationships.  Pac. 9 Transp., Inc., Advice Mem., No. 21-CA-150875 (NLRB 12/18/2015, released 8/26/2016).

independent-contractorIn Pac 9, multiple unfair labor practice charges were filed, alleging violations of the Act as it related to the company’s relationship with its independent contractor drivers. The NLRB Regional Director sought an opinion from the NLRB General Counsel as to whether the NLRB had jurisdiction and whether a complaint should issue. Recognizing that the NLRB “has never held that an employer’s misclassification of statutory employees as independent contractors in itself violates” the Act’s protection of an employee’s rights, the General Counsel nonetheless recommended that, absent a settlement agreement, the company should be ordered to:

  • cease and desist telling workers that they are independent contractors (rather than employees), and
  • rescind portions of its independent contractor agreements that purport to classify the workers as “independent contractors.”

The General Counsel confirmed that the traditional common law independent contractor test would apply. While no factor is determinative, control was the most important. Other factors include: a distinct occupation or business, direction of work, skill required, providing supplies & equipment, length of the relationship, method of payment, the company’s and worker’s regular businesses, the parties’ belief as to whether they were employee/employer or independent. The General Counsel found it significant that the workers lacked: entrepreneurial opportunity, realistic ability to work for others, ownership or proprietary interest in their work, control over important business decisions, and real investment of capital. Therefore, these factors militated towards an employment relationship.

The Bottom Line:

In a year of NLRB-activism in the non-union workforces (e.g., see our posts on employee handbooks), companies using independent contractors to supplement their workforce must now worry that the NLRB will come after them for a misclassification issue. This is in addition to complying with regulations and tests from the IRS, U.S. and state Departments of Labor, unemployment and worker’s compensation boards, and other agencies regulating the employment relationship. Pac 9 demonstrates that while independent contractor agreements are not the last word in defining the relationship.

Care must be used when engaging individual workers as “independent contractors.” Multiple governmental agencies’ independent contractor tests must be analyzed to confirm that the relationship is both structured and implemented correctly. This includes written contracts, proof of insurance policies, and following good corporate practices. Experienced employment counsel can assist with forming the relationship and ensuring compliance for best practices.

NLRB Rules that Graduate Assistants at Private Universities May Unionize

Contributed by Julie Proscia, August 23, 2016

Today, August 23, 2016, the National Labor Relations Board issued a 3-1 decision ruling that graduate students, who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities, are entitled to collectively bargain.

The NLRB did so by expanding its interpretation of the definition of statutory employees to include student assistants working at private colleges and universities. The decision reversed a 2004 decision involving a similar campaign at Brown University. While many graduate students at public universities are already unionized, their right to do so was covered by various state laws and not federal law.

classroomThe controversy in question involved a bid by the United Auto Workers to organize graduate students at Columbia University. The University argued that collective bargaining would intrude on the educational relationship between graduate students and their universities. While this argument was successful in the past it did not sway the current Board. Rather the Board countered that the argument “is unsupported by legal authority, by empirical evidence or by the board’s actual experience.” Moreover, the Board noted that the Act contained no clear language prohibiting student assistants from its coverage and further found no compelling reason to exclude student assistants from its protections.

Although it is not clear whether or not the expansion will adversely impact the educational experience it is clear that the NLRB is progressively gaining ground in their goal to expand labor rights one step, or in this case, student at a time.

NLRB Strikes Down Employee Handbook’s No-Recording Rules

Contributed by Steven Jados

The NLRB has, once again, struck down work rules the Board deemed overly broad. This time, the employer is Whole Foods Market, and the rules at issue essentially barred employees from photographing or making audio or video recordings during working hours—that is, when employees were being paid to do their assigned work. These rules did not apply while employees were on break.

Readers may remember that the NLRB’s rationale for striking down various employer policies in recent years has hinged on protecting employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act to engage in “concerted activity for mutual aid or protection.”  For example, the NLRB has struck down rules barring employees from discussing their wages because those discussions, in the NLRB’s eyes, are concerted activity protected by law.

Now, no employee was actually disciplined for violating the rules at issue in this most-recent case—and there is no accusation that the rules actually infringed on any employee’s right to engage in concerted activity for mutual aid or protection.  There also was no evidence that any employee even believed that the rules prohibited protected concerted activity.  Nevertheless, the NLRB felt it necessary to ban these rules based on the possibility that employees might believe the rules prohibited the recording of, for instance, picketing or unsafe working conditions—things that may generally be considered protected concerted activity.

No CameraOne of the more interesting aspects of the decision, aside from the fact that no one was harmed by the rules at issue, is that the NLRB dodged the issue of whether the rules would be enforceable in states in which at least some of the prohibited recording is illegal under state law. Whole Foods argued that in some of the states in which it does business, it is illegal to record a private conversation without the consent of the parties involved in the conversation. The NLRB, apparently having no interest in issuing a decision with any nuance, rejected that argument (with no acknowledgement of the irony) because such laws were not in effect in all of the states in which Whole Foods operated.

Also interesting is the fact that the NLRB did not overrule prior precedent in which no-camera rules were upheld in a hospital setting.  The rationale for that prior precedent was essentially that the privacy of hospital patients and their medical information outweighed potential concerns over employees’ protected concerted activity.

With all of that in mind, it is likely that some no-recording rules could survive NLRB scrutiny.  The key to drafting enforceable rules will be making them apply to a narrow set of circumstances—circumstances that, ideally, are already protected by existing laws on consent for recording, or which can be tied to significant privacy interests, like medical patient privacy or, perhaps, the protection of trade secrets—although the NLRB’s decision is unclear as to whether the protection of trade secrets would be a valid basis for a no-recording rule.

The bottom line is that employers implementing broad no-recording policies that could be misconstrued to cover protected employee activity face a considerable risk that those rules will be deemed unenforceable by the NLRB.  As such, we recommend that employers work closely with experienced legal counsel to craft no-recording rules that closely align with operational needs and other applicable laws, and at the same time make clear that the rules will not infringe on employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

Finally, we note in closing that Whole Foods appealed this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on January 5, 2016.  We will monitor that action closely, and provide updates here with any further information as it becomes available.

Tips For Drafting Severance Agreements To Avoid Scrutiny From The EEOC and NLRB

Contributed by Debra Mastrian

The EEOC and NLRB continue to actively review severance agreements, in addition to social media policies and employee handbooks. The provisions that draw the most scrutiny are waivers or releases of claims, confidentiality and non-disparagement provisions.

18108277_sAny attempt to interfere with an employee’s right to file an administrative charge, communicate with the agencies, or participate in agency investigations, are troublesome. Remember that while an employee can waive or release an EEOC or NLRA claim, the employee can still file a charge of discrimination or an unfair labor practice charge. You can, however, require that the employee waive any right to individual relief in the event a charge is filed. You should always include appropriate carve out language and the language should not be limited to just the EEOC and NLRB, but should apply to any other federal, state or local agency charged with enforcement of any laws. You should consider using a separate, bold paragraph (omnibus carve out) and then refer to that carve out paragraph in each provision that may restrict the employee’s rights. Do not condition payment of the severance on a withdrawal of a pending agency charge, but instead require the employee to complete and return an appropriate agency withdrawal form and notify the agency of the agreement.

Confidentiality and non-disparagement provisions can run afoul of Section 7 and 8 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRB is concerned with broad provisions that may prohibit employees from discussing the terms and conditions of their employment or saying anything about their employer. Any provision that requires an employee to keep company information confidential should be carefully defined and limited to trade secrets and other non-public proprietary business information and should not be so broad as to cover all company and employee information. A provision that requires the employee to keep the severance agreement confidential should be limited to disclosure of the severance payment or specific terms, rather than the entire agreement. A non-disparagement provision that applies to statements about an employer should be limited to false statements that are willfully, maliciously or knowingly made. You can still prevent an employee from disparaging customers, suppliers and vendors.

You should add a savings provision that nothing in the severance agreement is intended to prohibit the employee from exercising his or her rights under the NLRA.

Employers should have their severance agreements reviewed on a regular basis to ensure they are current.

Temporary Staffing Agencies & User Companies Deemed “Joint Employers” By the NLRB

Contributed by Jeffrey Risch

As we anticipated and previously discussed, on August 27, 2015, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued its ruling in the closely watched Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc. (BFI) case (Case 32-RC-109684). In rejecting over 30 years of precedent and the underlying Administrative Law Judge’s ruling on the issue, the NLRB’s pro-union majority established a new standard for determining joint-employer status. While the decision related to a company’s engagement of a subcontractor supplying workers, the NLRB’s new joint-employer standard will certainly have a direct impact on franchisor/franchisee relationships, temporary staffing and leased employee business models as well as all aspects of employment outsourcing. In short, it lays the groundwork to overturn other past NLRB decisions and will, if left unchecked, alter how two or more independent businesses conduct business in the United States.

The underlying case: Teamsters Local 350 filed an organizing petition seeking to represent employees of Leadpoint who were placed at BFI’s facility. BFI and Leadpoint objected to this organizing attempt and ultimately prevailed before the NLRB’s assigned Administrative Law Judge. The ALJ, in applying decades of precedent, ruled that BFI and its subcontractor, Leadpoint, were not joint employers because BFI did not share “immediate and direct control” over the terms and conditions of Leadpoint’s employees working at the BFI facility. The Teamsters appealed the decision and urged the NLRB to adopt a new standard to allow the representative process to move forward. The NLRB’s General Counsel advanced the Teamsters’ position as well as a host of pro-union organizations — once invited to do so by the NLRB.

The new standard: According to the NLRB’s majority, two or more entities should be deemed joint employers of a single workforce under the Act when (1) they are both employers within the meaning of the common law; and (2) they directly or indirectly share or codetermine essential terms and conditions of employment. In evaluating whether an employer possesses sufficient control over employees to qualify as a joint employer, the NLRB will now consider whether an employer has exercised or reserved ANY control over terms and conditions of employment (directly or indirectly). Suffice to say… it’s now a very low standard. According to the majority, the new standard is designed “to better effectuate the purposes of the Act [National Labor Relations Act] in the current economic landscape.” However, make no mistake… this means exactly what the union, pro-union organizations and the NLRB’s own General Counsel advanced — which was essentially: if business conditions make it more difficult for unions to organize workers or collectively bargain, then the standards must be lowered to allow such.

Board Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce was joined by Members Kent Y. Hirozawa and Lauren McFerran in the majority opinion; Members Philip A. Miscimarra and Harry I. Johnson III dissented. Interestingly, and fodder for future legal challenges, the 2-member dissent stated: “…our colleagues have announced a new test of joint-employer status based on policy and economic interests that Congress has expressly prohibited the Board from considering.”

The impact: Two separate and distinct legal entities could now be embroiled with one another’s alleged unfair labor practices, union organizing drives, strike activities and picketing disputes as well as mandatory bargaining obligations. Further, this decision lays the groundwork for the NLRB to overturn other key decisions and continue its recent actions to provide unions with life-support. For instance, in July 2015, the NLRB invited briefs in the Miller & Anderson, Inc. matter (05-RC-079249), to help determine if the NLRB should overturn its decision in Oakwood Care Center (343 NLRB 659), which disallowed inclusion of solely employed employees or jointly employed employees in the same unit absent consent of both employers. Have no doubt, the writing is already on the wall here. Additionally, this decision will certainly be used by the EEOC, U.S. DOL and other federal agencies in their ongoing efforts to increasingly regulate the workplace.

Conclusion: Take action now! Don’t wait. First, immediately review and analyze all written agreements in place between your organization and any 3rd party. Whether you are a franchisor, franchisee, user company, general contractor, subcontractor, supplier company, temporary staffing firm…. It does not matter. Review all agreements through the lens of the NLRB and its bent towards finding joint-employer status. Second, carefully review and evaluate actual supervisory functions and oversight, training requirements and other day-to-day activities surrounding employee relations (of your own direct employees and 3rd party employees). Finally, perhaps its time to sit down and determine whether your current business model needs to be tweaked or modified in light of these disturbing developments.

Too Little Too Late: NLRB Rejects Employer’s Attempt To Repudiate

Contributed by Beverly Alfon

In a 2-1 decision, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a decision against an auto dealer, finding that the company violated the National Labor Relations Act (act) by implementing and maintaining: (1) a 2010 social media policy that required employees to identify themselves when posting comments about the company, its business, or a policy issue and prohibited employees from using the company’s logo in any manner; and (2)  a 2010 dress code policy that prohibited employees from wearing pins, insignia or other message clothing.  Boch Imports, Inc., 362 NLRB No. 83, 4/30/2015.  In light of the NLRB’s aimed campaign to attack what it characterizes as “overly broad” work rules, these findings are not all that surprising.  What makes this decision a brow-raiser is the fact that the NLRB rejected the company’s attempts to correct these policies – even though the company did so with the assistance and approval of the NLRB regional office that investigated the unfair labor practice charge.

Notice PostingIn 2013, the company replaced the 2010 policies with lawful language (except for the dress code provision) and distributed a new employee handbook to every employee.  The purpose was clearly to achieve compliance with Section 7 of the act.  Nonetheless, the board found violations by the company for its 2010 policies – regardless of the company’s rescission of those policies.  The board found the revised policies to be an inadequate remedy and ordered the company to post a notice to employees that enumerated the various overbroad policies and rules that were contained in the 2010 handbook.

This decision is troublesome for employers because although the board acknowledged that an employer may repudiate its unfair labor practices, it would have required the company to provide notice of the unfair labor practices to the employees, an admission of wrongdoing, even before an administrative law judge ruled on the merits of the charge.

Bottom line:  The region’s informal blessing of your attempts to correct the conduct at issue in an unfair labor practice charge, does not amount to an effective repudiation.  Before you decide to correct a policy or procedure that is the subject of an unfair labor practice charge, explore the possibility of a non-board settlement with the charging party – one that would not require a notice posting or admission of fault.