Ban on discussing ‘company business’ with outsiders was illegal

Not many employers want their workers to criticize the company or gossip about the workplace with friends and acquaintances who don’t work there. But can a business actually ban its employees from doing so?

One company that tried recently was found to have gone too far.

A transport agency called Battle’s Transportation in Washington, D.C. required all its employees to sign a confidentiality agreement that prohibited them from talking about “company business” with anyone outside the organization. This included “human resources-related” information as well as many other matters.

The night before the employees’ collective bargaining agreement was set to expire, a shuttle driver on a VA hospital route told one of the company’s regular clients that the next day would be the “last day of his contract.” As a result, some clients thought this meant the company would no longer be providing shuttle services.

In response, the company emphasized to its drivers that they were not to discuss any “company business” with outsiders.

But the National Labor Relations Board got involved, and found that the company’s policy went too far because it could be understood as prohibiting workers from discussing any terms of their employment with anyone. This would be an illegal restriction on the workers’ right to organize and try to improve their job conditions.

Of course, a company is well within its rights to prohibit workers from disclosing trade secrets and other legitimately confidential information. But a broad rule that prohibits any discussion of company business at all is simply too far-reaching to be okay.