Court Invalidates Overly Broad Employee Handbook Rules

By Scott M. Abbott Feb 23, 2016

March 2016 HR Magazine cover 3Court-Report  

Overly broad employee handbook rules that restrict employees from engaging in protected concerted activities are invalid under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

At issue were rules that 1) prohibited employees from discussing matters under investigation, 2) limited disclosure of information from the employer’s electronic communication and information systems, 3) prohibited activities other than work during working hours, and 4) urged employees to make complaints to their supervisors rather than to fellow employees. The court struck down the first three rules as too broad in scope.

The court stated that the blanket restriction of discussions in the first rule went too far in covering any matter under investigation, although it noted that confidential inquiries are important for preserving privacy. As for the second rule, the court stated that a reasonable employee could interpret it as a prohibition on sharing any information with other employees about employment terms and conditions.

Professional Pointer

Because work rules that could be interpreted as restricting employees from engaging in protected concerted activity will likely be struck down if challenged under the NLRA, be proactive in making revisions to your policies.

In interpreting the third rule, the court deemed “working hours” to include breaks and therefore concluded that the rule encroached on employee activities during break time.

The court upheld the last rule, finding that the language in the handbook was not mandatory and did not prescribe penalties if employees complained to other workers.

Scott M. Abbott is managing partner of Kamer Zucker Abbott, the Worklaw® Network member firm in Las Vegas.

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