The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

NLRB Issues Guidance on Employee Handbook Language


The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)’s general counsel issued a report last week that offers specific examples of lawful and unlawful language used in employee handbooks in several key categories, including rules on confidentiality and employee conduct.

Understand Employee Rights
According to Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), employees have a right to discuss wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment with fellow employees, as well as with nonemployees, such as union representatives. They also have the right to criticize or protest their employer’s labor policies or treatment of employees. A workplace rule is considered unlawfully overbroad if “employees would reasonably construe the rule’s language to prohibit Section 7 activity.” The vast majority of the rule violations the NLRB sees are ones that fail this particular test.

Test Your Knowledge
Here are five of the many examples shared in the report. Only one of these would be considered lawful — can you tell which one it is?

  1. Be respectful to the company, other employees, customers, partners and competitors.
  2. No defamatory, libelous, slanderous or discriminatory comments about the company, its customers and/or competitors, its employees or management.
  3. Each employee is expected to work in a cooperative manner with management/supervision, coworkers, customers and vendors.
  4. Be respectful of others and the company.
  5. Refrain from any action that would harm persons or property or cause damage to the company’s business or reputation.

The answer: Only number three would be considered lawful. The other four rules fall into the categories of being overbroad or lacking sufficient context, and therefore could have a chill effect on Section 7 rights.

Read the Full Report
The 30-page NLRB report includes these examples and more, as well as the rationale behind the NLRB’s decisions. For additional background information, including recent cases in which employee handbook provisions were found unlawful, check out ”Recent NLRB Decisions May Require Changes to Employee Handbooks” from the Fall 2014 issue of CUPA-HR’s The Higher Education Workplace magazine.