Workers’ ‘right to gripe’ gets another boost

The National Labor Relations Board is cracking down on workplace rules that are designed to promote harmony and civility, but that restrict employees from complaining about their working conditions.

All employees (even those who don’t belong to a union) have a right under federal labor law to talk to each other about their pay and conditions and to agitate for improvements. Here are some examples of workplace rules that the NLRB thinks might violate that right:

  • T-Mobile’s employee handbook required employees to “maintain a positive work environment by communicating in a manner that is conducive to effective working relationships.” That might sound like a good idea in general, but the NLRB found that the requirement was illegal because it limited workers’ right to complain.
  • A Michigan hospital prohibited conduct that “impedes harmonious interactions and relationships,” and also banned “negative or disparaging comments” about employees or physicians. Again, the NLRB said this was illegal.
  • Quicken Loans had a rule against using profanity on the job. While this might be okay in general, Quicken relied on the rule to fire a mortgage broker who used foul language when complaining about his job. An NLRB administrative judge said the firing was illegal because it violated the broker’s right to discuss conditions in the workplace.
  • Another T-Mobile rule prohibited workers from making recordings at work. The idea was to protect employees’ privacy, reduce harassment, encourage open communication and safeguard confidential information. But the NLRB said the company still had to allow workers to record conversations about wages and benefits.