The National Labor Relations Board 2014 Year in Review

McNees Attorneys Bruce D. Bagley and Adam L. Santucci recently released their annual White Paper entitled "The National Labor Relations Board 2014 Year in Review."

If the National Labor Relations Board seemed to be on the ropes in 2013, it certainly came out swinging in 2014. Last year, we reported that the Board faced a number of serious legal battles. Although the Board certainly got knocked down in 2014 by a blockbuster United States Supreme Court decision, it bounced right back and issued a number of important decisions that will undoubtedly have significant long-term implications for employers. And unfortunately, it was employers who "took it on the chin," because the Board's pro-union agenda was at the fore of most of its major actions.

Check out the comprehensive and informative White Paper by clicking here!

The White Paper can be downloaded as a PDF by clicking on this link.

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New NLRB Determination Makes It Easier For Unions To Organize Faculty At Universities And Colleges

This post was contributed by Bruce D. Bagley, an Attorney in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor & Employment Practice Group in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

In still another break with long-standing precedent, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has once again eased the way for union organizing – this time for unions seeking to organize faculty at private sector universities and colleges. In Pacific Lutheran University, 361 NLRB No. 157 (December 2014), the Board adopted a new standard for determining when faculty may be considered to be "managerial employees," which in turn critically impacts whether they may be subject to unionization.

The seminal case in this controversial area of federal labor law is NLRB v. Yeshiva University, 444 U.S. 672 (1980), where the United States Supreme Court found that the faculty at Yeshiva were managerial employees and therefore excluded from coverage under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or Act). The Court found that the Yeshiva faculty "formulate and effectuate management policies by expressing and making operative the decisions of their employer." They had effective power to control or implement employer policies, such as deciding what courses would be offered, when they would be scheduled, to whom they would be taught, and determining teaching methods, grading policies, matriculation standards, which students would be admitted, retained, and graduated, etc.

In the years since 1980, the Board has struggled (at least according to some of the reviewing Courts of Appeal) with applying the Yeshiva standard. But more often than not the Board applied Yeshiva to determine that faculty, particularly tenured faculty, were closely aligned with the management of their respective institution, resulting in their being excluded from coverage under the Act.

In Pacific Lutheran, however, the Board has chosen to refine or interpret the Yeshiva standard in a manner making it harder to assert or conclude that faculty are managerial. Perhaps unfortunately for those who would have preferred the prior status quo, the facts in Pacific Lutheran easily lent themselves to those Board Members who were looking to expand coverage of the Act to cover previously-excluded faculty. The union had petitioned for a representation election in a unit of all contingent (non-tenure eligible) faculty teaching a minimum of three credits during an academic term, of which there were about 176 in the petitioned-for unit. The University asserted that approximately 40 of the 176 were managerial and therefore excluded from voting in any election that might be scheduled. The NLRB Regional Director concluded otherwise, including the 40 as eligible voters when he directed that an election take place. The University appealed to the Board, where at least 20 organizations filed various amicus briefs.

Unlike the faculty in Yeshiva, the contingent faculty at issue did not appear to exercise the same level of managerial control or implementation. The Board in Pacific Lutheran first laid out a focus upon five areas of policy making to examine whether faculty actually exercise control or make effective recommendations regarding university policies. The five areas to be examined are academic programs, enrollment management, finances, academic policy, and personnel policies/decisions, with an emphasis on the first three being "primary" areas and the latter two being "secondary." Then within each of those policy areas, the Board will seek to determine whether the faculty actually exercise control or make effective recommendations in those areas. If they do, then the Board will find the faculty to be managerial and exclude them from coverage under the NLRA. And the Board emphasized that, to be excluded, the faculty must have "actual--rather than mere paper—authority" and in order for recommendations to be considered effective, they "must almost always be followed by the administration."

Turning to the facts in Pacific Lutheran, the Board found that the faculty at issue were not managerial. According to the Board, the faculty had only limited participation in the three primary and two secondary areas of policy making noted above, noting particularly that they were typically employed on only one-year contacts which inherently limited their ability to control or make effective recommendations regarding university policy. The faculty at issue also had only limited participation in decisions affecting academic programs, were not permitted to serve on faculty standing committees, did not vote on enrollment management policies, had little or no involvement in decisions involving finances, and had limited involvement in both academic policy and personnel matters. In short, it appears that the Board may have seized upon a set of facts which in any event would have fallen short of the Yeshiva standard, in order to erect new barriers for colleges and universities to overcome in future cases where the facts might have been more conducive to finding managerial status under Yeshiva.

This case or future cases utilizing the Pacific Lutheran rationale will likely receive further review and analysis by the federal Courts of Appeal and possibly the Supreme Court. Private sector universities and colleges that wish to see their faculty remain non-unionized should however take heed. Most authorities predict that this case will spur union organizing of faculty, and therefore institutions should be evaluating their vulnerability and taking proactive steps now to lessen the likelihood of having to deal with a unionized faculty.

NLRB Re-Issues "Quickie Election" Rule In Continuous Effort to Boost Union Organizing

This post was contributed by Bruce D. Bagley, an Attorney in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor & Employment Practice Group in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is at it again. Unions are already winning close to 70% of NLRB-conducted elections. NLRB elections are already conducted quite promptly, with the median processing time being about 38 days from date of petition filing to date of election. Nevertheless the three Democrat Members of the NLRB have apparently concluded that organized labor needs additional governmental assistance in unionizing the unorganized workforce.

Over the vehement dissent of the two Republican Members, the Board Majority, on December 15, 2014, issued its Final Rule amending election procedures in what most observers are calling the "Quickie Election" Rule. Thankfully the Rule does not actually go into effect until April 14, 2015, as it is 733 pages in length and will therefore require substantial time just to wade through. But the implications of the Rule are starkly clear – effective April 14, elections will be held approximately 10 to 21 days after a union election petition has been filed – with profound consequences for non-union employers.

First, if this all sounds familiar, it should. The Board first issued an almost identical Rule in 2011, but it was invalidated by a federal court because the Board lacked a proper quorum when it had voted to adopt the Rule. See Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. v. NLRB, 879 F. Supp 2d 18 (D.D.C. 2012).

Undeterred by this setback, the Board proposed virtually the same Rule in February 2014, and has now adopted it, despite an overwhelmingly negative reception by employers and trade associations. The new Rule is every bit as pro-union as the original 2011 Rule, and in some ways is even more stringent in addressing what the Majority determined to be shortcomings and inequities existing under current procedures.

What are some of the major changes promulgated under the new Final Rule? They will be addressed below, but collectively, they will operate to dramatically shorten the period of time from the date the election petition is filed to the date the election is conducted. That time period is particularly critical for employers, because it is often the only time the employer will get to express its views on unionization. An organizing effort may have been ongoing for weeks or months without the employer's knowledge, with the employer only learning about it when it is served with the election petition. A dramatically shortened time period prior to the date of the election necessarily deprives employers of the time needed to fairly present both sides of the representation question to employees.

Among the changes in the Final Rule are the following:

  1. The employer, upon receipt of the petition will have just two business days in which to post a "Notice of Petition for Election" and distribute it electronically to employees. The Notice references various employer conduct which, if committed, would constitute unfair labor practices. Failure to comply with this posting requirement, inadvertent or otherwise, will constitute grounds to set aside the results of the election if the employer wins.
  2. The employer will have seven days from date of service of petition to file with NLRB and serve on the union a "Statement of Position" regarding any issues it plans on raising at the pre-election hearing, and failure to raise an issue in the Statement will preclude the employer from litigating the issue at the pre-election hearing.
  3. Pre-election hearings will be held precisely eight days after the petition is served, but unlike present procedures, there will be no litigation of individual employee eligibility to vote or inclusion in the bargaining unit, with such issues being deferred to the post-election challenge procedure. This provision is particularly onerous to employers, as it is likely to prevent the employer from litigating the supervisory status of individuals, thereby making it more difficult for the employer to know which individuals it can rely on as company representatives during the election campaign.
  4. Under current procedures, post-hearing briefs can be filed seven days after the hearing. Under the Final Rule, such briefs will no longer be entertained, resulting in less time for the Board's Regional Director to consider the issues and less time until the issuance of a Decision and Direction of Election.
  5. Employers will now be required to provide to the Board and to the union expanded personal information about employees, to include not only names and home addresses (per present procedures) but now also home telephone number, personal cell phone number and e-mail address if known by the employer, work location, shift, and job classification. All of this of course is to enhance the union's ability to contact employees for pre-election campaigning purposes.

The above are only some of the changes, with others including eliminating the right to seek pre-election review of a Regional Director's Decision by the Board, eliminating the current 25 day waiting period to conduct elections after the issuance of a Decision and Direction of Election, and expediting of any post-election objections. The bottom line, of course, is that effective April 14, 2015, it will be easier than ever before for unions to unionize the presently unorganized.

What should employers be doing now to prepare for implementation of the Final Rule? Some suggestions below:

  1. Unless you believe you are virtually invulnerable to a union organizing effort, you should not remain idle. If and when an election petition is filed, there may be too little time to do too much.
  2. Consider conducting union avoidance training for managers and supervisors now, before the Final Rule becomes effective.
  3. Honestly consider whether your organization is susceptible to a union organizing effort. If it is, perhaps you should be analyzing potential bargaining unit issues, reviewing company policies (such as solicitation and use of electronic resources), determine who is likely to be considered supervisory and who is not, compose a company response team which can promptly address union organizing efforts, etc.

These are but a few of the proactive steps that all non-union entities should be considering in light of the Board's adoption of its Quickie Election Rule. If you have questions, concerns, or would like further assistance, please contact the undersigned or your usual McNees attorney contact.

The Obama NLRB Strikes Another Blow on Behalf of Organized Labor: Employees May Use Company E-Mail Systems to Unionize and Engage in Other "Protected Concerted Activities"

This post was contributed by Bruce D. Bagley, an Attorney in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor & Employment Practice Group in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Most employers have policies or work rules limiting employee use of Company e-mail systems to "business purposes." Many employers have policies or work rules specifically prohibiting employees from using Company e-mail to solicit for outside organizations (such as soliciting fellow employees to join a union). In Purple Communications, Inc., 361 NLRB No. 126, issued on December 11, 2014, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided that employees must presumptively be permitted to use their employer's e-mail system, during non-working time, to communicate with each other about workplace issues, including but not limited to union organizing efforts.

In reaching this determination, the three Democrats on the Board, over the vigorous dissent of the two Republican members, reversed the 2007 NLRB Decision in Register Guard, which had held that employees have no statutory right to use their employer's e-mail system for engaging in union or other activities protected by Section 7 of the NLRA.

The Purple Communications majority premised its decision on what it deemed "the importance of e-mail as a means of workplace communication," noting that "e-mail remains the most pervasive form of communication in the world." According to the majority, "the workplace is 'uniquely appropriate' and 'the natural gathering place' for such communications, and the use of e-mail as a common form of workplace communication has expanded dramatically in recent years." The majority concluded that, if employees are already provided access to their employers' e-mail systems, then they must also be permitted to use these systems, during non-working time, for union organizing purposes and for any other protected communications about terms and conditions of employment.

It is significant to note that the Board's Decision applies to employees, not non-employees, and does not present outside union organizers with the right to use the employer's e-mail system. It does not require employers to now provide e-mail access to employees who do not already have such access. Nor does the decision reach any employer communication system other than e-mail. And while the decision announces a "presumption" that employees have the right to use the e-mail system for protected communications on non-work time, it also states that employers can at least try to assert "special circumstances" that would allow a ban on such use of e-mail if necessary to maintain production or discipline. (Editor's note: good luck trying to establish sufficient "special circumstances" that would satisfy the present Board!).

Notwithstanding Purple Communications, it is still permissible for employers to prohibit employee use of employer e-mail systems for non-work-related activities during working time, including communications regarding union or other Section 7 activities. But that would be the case only if the employer consistently enforces such rule against employee use of e-mail during working time for other non-work-related communications as well (which most employers do not). Put another way, if an employer does not monitor and prohibit content of non-work-related e-mail sent or received during working time, it similarly cannot lawfully prohibit the use of e-mail during working time for union-related or other Section 7 protected communications.

This NLRB case raises significant issues for virtually all employers, unionized and non-unionized. No doubt there will be appeals from the Board's Decision to the federal appellate courts, but for the immediate future at least, Purple Communications is the law of the land. If you have questions or concerns about how this Decision may impact your policies or work force, particularly your policies regarding e-mail and other electronic resources, "Bring Your Own Device," solicitation, social media, handbooks, etc., please feel free to contact the undersigned or your usual attorney contact at McNees Wallace & Nurick.

NLRB Modifies Standard Remedial Notice to Include QR Code and Link to Board's Web Site

This post was contributed by Adam L. Santucci, an Attorney in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor & Employment Practice Group in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The National Labor Relations Board recently took the opportunity, in a case dating back to 2011, to update and modernize some of the standard language contained in the remedial notice that the Board requires to be posted as a remedy for unfair labor practices. By way of background, in nearly every case in which the Board finds a violation of the Act, it requires the offending party (union or employer) to post or otherwise furnish a notice to employees setting forth their rights under the Act. The notice will also include information regarding the remedial actions that will be taken by the violating party. In the recent past, the Board has begun to require parties to issue the notice in electronic format, but for the most part the standard language in the notice has not changed.

In Durham School Services, L.P., the Board upheld an ALJ decision reinstating an employee who was allegedly discharged in retaliation for supporting the union during a hotly contested union election. The Board also affirmed the ALJ's finding that the employer engaged in objectionable conduct during the period prior to the election, which warranted the setting aside of the election results which had been in favor of the employer. As a result, the ALJ ordered that a third election be held (the first election was also overturned).

Those of you who have been following the Board's decisions of late were probably not surprised to see that the employer lost on all fronts. That result is not what makes this case of note. What makes it noteworthy is that the Board took the opportunity, at the request of the union, to prospectively modify the standard language it includes in all remedial notices.

In Durham, the Board granted the union's request that it modify its current standard notice to inform employees that a copy of the Board's full decision and order are available on the Board's web site. The notices will now include a link to the decision/order and a QR code that will take employees directly to the Board's web site. The Board found that making the decisions and orders more readily available will facilitate a better understanding of the violations that occurred and why the Board granted the remedies it directed. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for the Board's standard notice as the Board continues its unprecedented outreach efforts and continues to attempt to facilitate employees' understanding of the Act.

Would You Like Fries . . . and an Unfair Labor Practice Charge with That?

This post was contributed by Bruce D. Bagley and Lee E. Tankle of McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor & Employment Practice Group.

Mainstream media, attorneys, and business owners are discussing the meaning and impact of a two paragraph press release issued on July 29 by the Office of the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). That Office is the "prosecuting arm" of the NLRB, and in the press release, the General Counsel indicated he has authorized the issuance of unfair labor practice (ULP) complaints against franchisor McDonald's USA, LLC for the actions of its franchisees. In a typical franchisor-franchisee relationship, a franchisor, like McDonald's, may contract with a franchisee to provide the latter with use of the franchise name, logo, processes, recipes, etc., in exchange for an upfront franchise fee and sales-based royalties. So is this press release declaring McDonald's a "joint employer" with potentially over 13,000 United States franchisees the super-sized issue pundits have made it out to be?

Over the past two years, 181 ULP charges have been filed with the NLRB involving numerous McDonald's restaurants. The charges arose largely from the termination of a number of fast food workers who had participated in various protests and union organizing efforts at McDonald's franchised stores across the country. Per the General Counsel's press release, 68 of those cases were found to be meritless, 64 are pending investigation, and 43 were found to have merit. In those 43 cases found to have merit, the General Counsel contends that the various franchisees and McDonald's USA, LLC (the franchisor headquartered in Illinois) are "joint employers" and will therefore be named as parties to the complaints.

We have previously discussed the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit's views on joint employer status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a different federal statute.

Why all the hubbub now under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)?

Continue Reading...

Screaming Profanities and Threatening the Boss Not Enough to Get You Fired According to NLRB

This post was contributed by Adam L. Santuccian Attorney in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor & Employment Practice Group in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Yep, that's right. The employee's outburst is too obscene to reproduce on the Blog, but you can review the Board's decision here. Suffice to say that the employee, who was employed for only about two months: (1) called the owner of the company a crook and a number of other colorful names; (2) the attack was personal and contained a veiled threat; and (3) was described as "physically aggressive" by a Board Administrative Law Judge. Should be enough to get you fired, right? Not with this Board.

The employee was a car salesman, and asked some general questions about restroom breaks and employee compensation during his first few days on that job. Pretty typical for a new employee. When the employee sold his first car, he questioned the commission payment he received and questioned the dealership's draw on commissions policy. At various times, the employee was told – if you don't like how we do things here, find yourself another job. (As much as we all would like to say that at times, you and your managers really need to avoid that statement.)

Eventually, the dealership's owner met with the employee to talk with him about his constant complaining. During the meeting, the employee apparently lost it, as described above, and was fired for the outburst.

The employee filed a complaint with the Board, and the ALJ initially concluded that the employee was engaged in concerted activity protected by the National Labor Relations Act, but that his belligerent, physically aggressive and menacing behavior lost the protection of the Act; and therefore, the termination was upheld.

The Board disagreed and reversed the ALJ's determination. The Board found that the Atlantic Steel factors, which are used to determine whether employee conduct lost the protection of the Act, all weighed in favor of the employee. The Board ordered the employee reinstated. The employer appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which determined that the Board's decision was internally inconsistent, i.e. did not make sense, and remanded the case to the Board.

On remand, the Board affirmed its earlier decision (surprise!). The Board noted that although one of the Atlantic Steel factors did weigh against the employee, overall the factors weighed in favor of protecting the employee's conduct. The Board concluded, again contrary to the ALJ, that the employee's conduct was not physically aggressive or menacing. The Board concluded, contrary to the ALJ, that the veiled threat was not really a threat. Ultimately the Board held that the employee's conduct did not lose protection of the Act.

What can we take from this case (besides a whole lot of frustration)? This Board is clearly willing to split hairs when evaluating employee misconduct and the Board's efforts to expand the protections of the Act continue – but we knew that. To us, it appears that this Board is only going to require an express (rather than implied) threat or actual physical violence in order to find that an employee's outburst loses protections of the Act. And that is a shame.

Fair Share Fees Unconstitutional in the Public Sector? Not So Fast

The United States Supreme Court has been issuing employment-law related decisions like a boss over the past week or so. Many observers thought that the Court's decision in Harris v. Quinn (pdf), a case examining the constitutionality of union fair share fees, would result in more fireworks (sorry, a little 4th of July humor for you). However, in most respects, Harris was a dud.

The issue in Harris was whether a requirement that public sector employees pay "fair share" fees to a union was compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment. Fair share fees are fees that non-union members must pay to the union in order to reimburse the union for the costs of representing the employees in collective bargaining and related matters. These fees are required even though the employee is not an actual member of the union because, under the law, the union has the obligation to fairly represent all employees, whether or not the employee is a member of the union. The payment of fair share fees is typically authorized by state law. In those states where fair share fees are authorized by law, non-union member employees are typically forced to pay the fair share fee.

That was the case in Harris, which dealt with a specific group of employees, Personal Assistants (PAs), who provide in-home personal care services funded by Medicaid. Although employed by the individual to whom they are providing care, PAs are also employees of the state of Illinois by operation of state law. In addition, under Illinois law, PAs were permitted to form a union and nonmembers could be compelled to pay fair share fees. The PAs were represented by the Service Employees International Union and several of the non-union member PAs took issue with the required payment of fair share fees to a union that they did not support.

The Supreme Court has previously held fair share fees to be constitutional as they can assist in keeping labor peace and prevent non-dues paying employees from "free-riding "on the backs of dues-paying members. The majority in Harris really dismantled this prior case law and concluded that these justifications for the payment of fair share fees were not sufficient to overcome a First Amendment challenge. However, the Court came up short of expressly overruling its 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Educ., which had declared fair share fees constitutional.

The Court decided Harris based on its specific facts, and held that the PAs were in a unique situation. The Court held that the justifications supporting fair share fees were not sufficient to overcome the challenge with respect to the PAs. The Court found that the labor peace justification was flawed. In addition, the Court found that the union was limited in the ability to negotiate on behalf of the PAs, and therefore, the free-riding concern was not that significant with respect to the PAs. Therefore, the Court concluded that, in this specific situation, the First Amendment prohibits the collection of the fee from PAs who do not want to join or support the union.

Although somewhat factually complicated, the Harris case had the potential to send shock waves through the public sector labor community. If fair share fees were declared unconstitutional, public sector unions would have suffered a significant negative financial impact, and as a result, their political clout would have likely been significantly diminished.

In the end, it appears that this was a case of much Abood about nothing (sorry a little stare decisis humor). Fair share fees in the public sector survive in most cases, for now. The Court did significantly undermine the legal precedent upon which fair share fees stand and that could mean a change in the future. But for now, fair share fees are constitutional in the vast majority of cases.

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Long-Awaited Decision in NLRB v. Noel Canning; President Obama's Recess Appointments to NLRB Deemed Unconstitutional

This post was contributed by Bruce D. Bagley, a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor & Employment Practice Group in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

On June 26, 2014, the United States Supreme Court unanimously found that President Obama acted unconstitutionally when he made several recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") in 2012. The Court, in an Opinion authored by Justice Breyer, affirmed (albeit for differing reasons) the January 2013 judgment by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. (Similar rulings holding the appointments to be unconstitutional had been made by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and our own Third Circuit Court of Appeals.)

As we have reported previously, on January 4, 2012 the President appointed three individuals to be Board Members. He had previously been unable to procure sufficient support for his appointments from the United States Senate, which under the U.S. Constitution, must confirm such presidential appointments. The President thereafter made the appointments anyway, claiming that the Senate was in "recess" for its 2011-2012 winter holiday break, and that he had authority under the Constitution's Recess Appointments Clause to make such appointments at that time. The Senate, however, did not consider itself to be in recess, as it had agreed to reconvene every three business days during the period from December 20, 2011 through January 23, 2012.

The Court split 5-4 on the rationale for confirming the Court of Appeals' judgment. Justice Scalia and the three more conservative Justices would have more broadly limited the president's recess appointment powers. Justice Breyer and the four more liberal Justices concluded that the Recess Appointments Clause does empower the president to fill vacancies during a recess of sufficient length, which Breyer opined should be a hiatus of at least 10 days. But here the Senate had been on only a three day break, according to Breyer, because it was meeting every three business days. All nine Justices agreed that a three day break in business was not of sufficient length to constitute an actual recess which would allow the President to make these unilateral appointments.

Turning more specifically to the Board's findings in the case at issue, the Company's argument in Noel Canning was simple and direct. It argued that the Board's finding it had committed unfair labor practices must be overruled because the Board lacked a proper quorum, due to the fact that three of the Board's five Members had been unlawfully appointed. The Supreme Court readily agreed with the Company's position. And by doing so, the Court has implicitly invalidated literally hundreds of NLRB Decisions issued from January 4, 2012 to July 30, 2013, the date on which new Members were finally and lawfully confirmed by the Senate during its regular session.

Many of the Board's Decisions issued during that January 2012 to July 2013 time period were quite significant. In Costco Wholesale Corp., 358 NLRB No. 106 (2012), the Board had invalidated a policy prohibiting employees from making defamatory statements about the company. In Banner Health System, 358 NLRB No. 93 (2012), the Board had found unlawful a blanket policy prohibiting employees from discussing ongoing investigations of misconduct with other employees. In D.R. Horton, 357 NLRB No. 184 (2012), the Board had concluded it was unlawful for employers to require employees to arbitrate claims rather than file civil actions. In WKYC-TV, Gannet Co., 359 NLRB No. 30 (2012), the Board had held it was unlawful to cease deducting union dues from employees' pay checks after expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. All of these cases, and many others, will now be of no precedential value, given the lack of a proper quorum at the Board when the decisions were issued.

Many of you may recall what happened the last time the Supreme Court found that the Board lacked a proper quorum, in New Process Steel v. NLRB, 130 S.Ct. 2635 (2010). It took the Board several years to re-evaluate and reissue determinations on hundreds of cases, just as the Board must presumably do now as a result of Noel Canning. But in what must be of most import for those of us on the management side, the Board is currently at full strength (three Democrats and two Republicans). It is unlikely that the present Board will ultimately deviate from the harshly pro-union precedent established by the Obama-appointed recess Board Members. Long-term, Noel Canning may be remembered much more for its rebuke of President Obama's usurpation of legislative authority than it will be for its impact on principles of substantive labor law.

NLRB Continues to Throw Up Roadblocks for Internal Investigations

As we previously reported, the National Labor Relations Board has thrown down some pretty significant roadblocks for employers attempting to conduct thorough and actionable internal investigations. The Board continued those efforts recently when it declared that an employer's request that a union-covered employee sign his own witness statement at the conclusion of an interview was unlawful.

In Murtis Taylor Human Services Sys., the Board first held that a union representative was within his rights when he advised an employee not to answer questions posed during an investigatory interview. The Board's hair splitting on this issue was evident, at various points in the decision the Board states:

  • The union rep advised the employee not to answer certain questions until the employer clarified the nature of the alleged policy violation.
  • At no time during the interview did the union rep attempt to prevent the employee from answering questions.
  • Although the union rep advised the employee to refrain from answering...

We are not sure how the Board reconciled these seemingly contradictory conclusions. But without a doubt, this decision will lead to more aggressive interference from union reps during investigatory interviews, which in turn will lead to poorer overall investigative results. Ironically, that will very likely be a negative outcome for both employers and employees.

In addition, the Board found that the employer violated the Act by directing an employee to review the notes taken during his interview, make any changes that were necessary and then sign the document. The employee was even told to take the statement to his attorney for review, but he would still need to sign it. The Board held that by unilaterally implementing the signature requirement without bargaining with the union, the employer violated the National Labor Relations Act.

The employer attempted to argue that the management rights clause in its contract with the union allowed it to implement reasonable rules and regulations such as the signature requirement. However, the Board quickly dispensed of that argument finding that the contract clause was not specific enough. As it stands, an employer without a prior practice of requiring employees to sign witness statements must bargain with the union prior to implementing such a requirement.

The principles set forth in this decision are specific to unionized workforces, for now. The decision in Murtis Taylor further erodes unionized employers' ability to conduct thorough and accurate internal investigations. Employers will likely face significant interference from union representatives during investigatory interviews, which will very likely impede the fact gathering process. In addition, employers may be unable to secure an employee's signature on a witness statement, which may lead to more employees changing their stories during the investigation process. Unfortunately, employers' ability to police the workforce continues to be impaired by decisions of the Board.

NLRB Finds that not all Whining and Complaining Protected by NLRA

Stop me if you have heard this one, an employee was upset about his pay rate…

Seriously, an employee upset about his pay was at the heart of a recent decision issued by the National Labor Relations Board that explored the protections afforded by the National Labor Relations Act ("Act"). The employee in question was hired to perform waterproofing duties on a project at a university in Ohio. The project was a public project, and therefore, it was covered by the applicable prevailing wage laws. The employee, however, was not happy about the prevailing wage rate that he received on the project, and essentially complained about his wage rate throughout the entire time he spent working on the project. In fact, as the foreman testified, the employee complained about basically everything during his brief tenure with the employer.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
According to the foreman, the employee "whined" and "complained" throughout the project about nearly everything. The employee apparently constantly voiced his opinion that the company was doing "everything wrong." (You may have heard that one before too!) As it turns out, the employee did receive some pay increases during the term of the project. However, he often told other employees about the wage increases, which led to some discontent and caused at least one long term employee to quit (apparently feeling that he should have also received wage increases even without having to complain). Eventually, the payroll clerk wrote the employee a note on his pay stub that stated, "Please keep your pay to yourself."

Under the Act, employees are permitted to engage in concerted protected activity. This includes discussions regarding terms and conditions of employment, such as wages. Accordingly, the Board quickly concluded that the handwritten statement on the pay stub was a direct restriction on protected activity, and therefore, a violation of the Act.

Some Bad Deeds need not be Forgiven
The employee was laid off at the end of the project, and proceeded to file multiple complaints against the company, including a complaint to the university that the work performed on the project was "shoddy." Before the Board, the employee argued that his termination was retaliation for engaging in protected activity, i.e. complaining about his wages. The company, however, argued that the employee was terminated because the project came to an end and it had no more work for the employee. The Board agreed with the company. The Board concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that the employee's complaints about his pay were the reason for his lay off. The Board noted that the employee had received pay increases after he complained, and that several other employees were laid off at the conclusion of the project.

The employee also argued that the fact that the company failed to rehire him for other projects was in retaliation for his protected activity. The company argued that it would not rehire the employee because of the allegations that he made to the university regarding the quality of the company's work. The Board actually sided with the company on this one, finding that its explanation was credible, and that the statements about the quality of work in this instance were not protected activity.

It seems that employers are regularly finding themselves in hot water with the Board as a result of overly restrictive policies and procedures. Even in situations like the present case, where there were obvious negative consequences following the employee's discussion of his wage rate (another employee quit), the Board will find a violation of the Act. In fact, the Board noted that the motivation for the restriction on the employee's conduct was "irrelevant."

Nonetheless, for some of us it is refreshing to be reminded that there are some limits to the protections of the Act. Indeed, not all "complaining and whining" is protected.

NLRB Rules That College Football Team Can Seek to Form a Union

This post was co-authored by Bruce D. Bagley, a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor & Employment Practice Group in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

As Americans across the country anxiously stare at their National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Men's Basketball brackets, the Northwestern University Wildcats are dominating the headlines in both the sports and labor law communities. In what many sports and legal commentators are calling a game-changing decision (pun intended), on Wednesday, March 26, the Regional Director for the Chicago Regional Office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that certain players on the Northwestern University football team could seek to form a union. Perhaps more importantly, the Decision is quite expansive in its interpretation of the term "employee."

At the center of his Decision, the Regional Director found that scholarship recipients are actually "employees" of the University, as the term "employee" is defined in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). According to the Decision, "an employee is a person who performs services for another under a contract of hire, subject to the other’s control or right of control, and in return for payment." The Regional Director reasoned that Northwestern's scholarship football players are employees because they sign a "tender" before each scholarship period, are granted scholarships (payment) in exchange for their services (playing football), are under the strict control of the University's athletic department, and perform valuable services because they generated over $235 million for the school's football program over a ten year period. The Director further argued that these scholarship football players are "paid" over $76,000 per year, in the form of tuition, fees, room, board, and books – and that this scholarship payment is directly tied to their performance "at work" on the football field. Notably, the Director concluded that non-scholarship and "walk-on" players do not meet the definition of "employee," because they receive no compensation for the services they perform.

So what happens next? Northwestern has indicated its intention to file a Request for Review of the Regional Director's Decision with the full NLRB in Washington, D.C. If the Board grants the Request for Review, it will consider further briefings by the parties, and possibly oral argument. If the Regional Director's Decision is upheld, the NLRB's Chicago Office will conduct a secret ballot election in a voting unit consisting of "all football players receiving football grant-in-aid scholarships and not having exhausted playing eligibility" employed by Northwestern University.

If the Northwestern football players do eventually vote to form a union, this will give them the right to collectively bargain with their "employer", Northwestern University. There is no guarantee that they will receive additional payment or benefits at all – they could even conceivably find themselves with fewer benefits depending on the terms of an eventual collective bargaining agreement. And there are a number of potential downsides for the players – if the money they receive in scholarships is "income", the IRS could very well demand that players pay an income tax on the scholarship funds deemed payment for their athletic services. Note that, according to various press accounts, the players do not claim they wish to receive any additional compensation (at this point). As of now, they have indicated their primary concern is securing the coverage of medical expenses for current and former athletes with sports-related injuries.

The Regional Director's Decision directly impacts only Northwestern University, although certainly players at other schools may be pursuing similar actions. Remember that the NLRB does not have jurisdiction over public universities such as Penn State, Ohio State, etc. Such state-related institutions would be under the jurisdiction of state labor relations boards. Remember, too, that the Northwestern Decision is fact-specific, and that other Division I football programs could be treated differently by the NLRB.

As expected, the NCAA and many of the major college sports conferences strongly disagree with the Decision. In a statement released shortly after the Decision was issued, the NCAA stated "We frequently hear from student-athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid." The NLRB concluded that scholarship football players were not "primarily students" because they spend most of their time participating in athletic endeavors. This is certainly an expansive reading of the statutory term "employee." Only time will tell if the federal appellate courts, including eventually the U.S. Supreme Court, will agree that federal labor law was intended to grant collective bargaining rights to student athletes, albeit ones that receive scholarships and whose college activities may indeed be tightly controlled by their coaches.

The National Labor Relations Board 2013 Year in Review

Recently, McNees issued its annual White Paper: The National Labor Relations Board Year in Review.  Please click here to view the full White Paper. 

From the looks of it, 2013 was a very rough year for the National Labor Relations Board! Last year, we reported that the National Labor Relations Board would face some serious legal battles in 2013. Some of those battles are over, and there are clear winners and losers. Many more battles are still being waged. All the while, the Board continued to pursue its heavily pro-union agenda.

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Interpretation Letter Permits Union Organizers to Be Employee Representatives during OSHA Inspections at Non-Union Worksites

This post was contributed by Andrew L. Levy, Esq., a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Practice Group.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) recently released a Letter of Interpretation authorizing employees at non-union workplaces to designate union organizers to act as their employee representative during an OSHA inspection. The following is an excerpt from the Letter of Interpretation, the full version of which is available here:

Question:         May workers at a worksite without a collective bargaining agreement designate a person affiliated with a union or community organization to act on their behalf as a walk around representative?

Answer:           Yes . . . [a] person affiliated with a union without a collective bargaining agreement or with a community organization can act on behalf of employees as a walk around representative so long as the individual has been authorized by the employees to serve as their representative.

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NLRB'S Notice Posting Rule Invalidated by DC Court of Appeals

This post was contributed by Bruce D. Bagley, Esq., a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Practice Group.

On May 7, 2013, a three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit vacated the NLRB's Notice Posting Rule, originally issued by the Board in August 2011. The Rule required that virtually all private-sector employers post a Notice to Employees, informing employees of various rights under the National Labor Relations Act (Act), such as the rights to engage in union organizing, form or join a union, and strike. The Notice also described various actions by employers or unions that would be illegal under the Act.

The Rule was immediately subject to legal challenge. Notably, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) challenged the validity of the Rule in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In March 2012, the District Court struck down several provisions concerning how the Rule would be enforced by the Board but ultimately held that the Board did have legal authority to promulgate the Rule. Thereafter, NAM appealed the District Court's decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, another federal District Court, in South Carolina, had vacated the Rule in its entirety in April 2012. The NLRB appealed that decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, where it remains pending at this time.

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NLRB Decisions to Fall Like Dominos?

As you may have heard, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals recently sent shockwaves through the labor relations world by holding that President Obama's "recess" appointments to the National Labor Relations Board were invalid. The court concluded that, as a result, the Board was acting without a quorum and did not have the power to render binding decisions. The question has now become, how many Board actions will go down?

The decision, Noel Canning v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd. (pdf), addressed the President's ability to make "recess" appointments, that is, appointments to executive branch positions without the confirmation of the Senate. The court concluded that the "recess" appointment power is available, not surprisingly, only when the Senate is actually in recess. The three Board appointments at issue were declared invalid because the Senate was not in recess at the time the appointments were made. The court concluded that, since the appointments were invalid, the Board has been operating without a quorum since January 4, 2012. As such, in accordance with the Supreme Court of the United States' holding in New Process Steel v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd. (pdf), the Board's decision was null and void.

The wave of challenges to the Board's actions rendered since January 4, 2012, (and some even prior to that date) has begun to crest. Interestingly the Noel Canning court, anticipating the likely impact of its decision, noted that it was not concerned about the repercussions of its holding on the Board. The Board, on the other hand, seems to have taken the position (in a January 25, 2013 press release) that the impact of Noel Canning is limited to only that case and therefore, its other decisions remain valid.

Despite the Board's position, one key decision that could be washed away is the Board's holding in D.R. Horton, Inc. (pdf).  In that groundbreaking case, the Board held that mandatory arbitration clauses in employment agreements that prohibit class-based claims violate the National Labor Relations Act. Although rendered before the January 4, 2012 appointments at issue in Noel Canning, the D.R. Horton decision was rendered by a Board that also included at least one recess appointment. This decision was already on appeal, but the attorneys for D.R. Horton have the appeals court to consider the impact of Noel Canning.

Also, HealthBridge Management LLC asked the Supreme Court to make a splash by requesting that the Court issue an emergency stay of an injunction issued by the Board due to the uncertainty surrounding the Board appointments. Last week, however, the Court denied the petition. The impact of the decision may also be felt in other areas outside of labor law. For example, there has been a challenge to the "recess" appointment of the director of the relatively new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that could undermine the actions of that agency.

For now, it appears that chaos reigns. Prudent employers, both union and non-union alike, are wise to proceed with caution in assessing the damage. President Obama has almost four years left in office, and it may be safe to assume that the Board, when properly constituted, will return to its pre-Noel Canning agenda.

Discharge Over Facebook Posting Lawful

On November 8, 2011, we reported that a National Labor Relations Board Administrative Law Judge issued an interesting decision involving an employee who was discharged for posts he made on his Facebook page. The ALJ found that the employee was not discharged in violation of the National Labor Relations Act, because even though some of the employee's Facebook posts were protected, the employee's termination was based on only non-protected posts. Recently, the Board upheld the ALJ's decision, providing helpful guidance to employers on the limits of the NLRA's protections.

On September 28, 2012, the Board affirmed the ALJ's decision in Knauz Motors, Inc. (pdf) The key question was whether the employee was fired for engaging in "concerted protected activity" under the NLRA. At issue were two Facebook posts made by the employee. The first included "mocking and sarcastic" pictures and comments about a sales event. Apparently, the employee was dissatisfied with the food selection for the event, which included hot dogs and water. The ALJ found, and the Board agreed, that since the food choices could impact the employee's commissions, which were a term and condition of his employment, the pictures and mocking comments were "concerted protected activity."

The ALJ and the Board took a different view of the second set of Facebook posts, which contained pictures and comments making fun of an accident at a related dealership. The accident involved a 13-year-old boy who was behind the wheel of a vehicle that crashed into a retaining pond. The employee posted pictures of the accident and made some inappropriate comments. The Board affirmed the ALJ's conclusion that these posts did not constitute concerted protected activity because there no was connection to the employee's terms and conditions of employment. Ultimately, the ALJ and the Board held that the employee's discharge was not a violation of the NLRA because he was terminated for the non-protected posts, and not the posts regarding the sales event.

The Board also agreed with the ALJ that some of the employer's policies were overly broad in violation of the NLRA, including the employer's Courtesy Policy. The Courtesy Policy provided: 

Courtesy is the responsibility of every employee. Everyone is expected to be courteous, polite and friendly to our customers, vendors and suppliers as well as to their fellow employees. No one should be disrespectful or use profanity or any other language which injures the image of the Dealership.

The Board held that the prohibition on "disrespectful" conduct and "language which injures the image or reputation of the Dealership" could be construed to prohibit protected activity, and therefore, was unlawful.

While there is some good news in the Knauz Motors decision, specifically that there are limits to the protection afforded to employees who take to Facebook to mock their employers, there continues to be frustration regarding the broad reading of the NLRA. As a result of the Knauz Motors decision, some employers may need to update their policies, again.

NLRB Decisions Suggest that Section 7 Disclaimer Could Save Vague Policies

As readers of this blog surely are aware, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has embarked on a crusade against overbroad social media policies and handbook language. Notably, in a trio of social media reports, the NLRB’s Office of General Counsel suggested that prohibitions on offensive, demeaning, and inappropriate comments or statements that could damage the reputation of the company or its employees are unlawfully vague and could have a chilling effect on employee communications critical of the terms and conditions of their employment. Moreover, the Office of General Counsel expressed its opinion that the inclusion of a Section 7 disclaimer would not save ambiguous policies. Recent decisions, however, signal that the NLRB has adopted a contrary position.

In September, the NLRB issued two decisions striking down two such anti-disparagement policies as overbroad. In both decisions, though, the NLRB was critical of the fact that the policy in question did not include language excluding protected Section 7 communications from its broad reach. While the NLRB rulings do not go as far to say that a disclaimer of restrictions on Section 7 activity would cure a vague policy, the NLRB’s analysis suggests that a disclaimer could be effective. Specifically, the NLRB reasoned that such limiting language would reduce the likelihood that employees could reasonably construe the policy as applying to protected concerted activity.

In light of these recent decisions and the flurry of NLRB activity in this area, both unionized and non-unionized employers should revisit their social media policies and employee handbooks to ensure they could survive the NLRB’s scrutiny. In policies prohibiting disparaging comments, whether at work or on social media, employers would do well to include specific examples of what is not allowed—e.g., language that is vulgar, obscene, threatening, harassing, or malicious. In addition, employers should incorporate into their policies language disclaiming an intent to interfere with an employee's Section 7 rights, including the right to discuss wages, hours, or other terms and conditions of employment.

NLRB Decision Could Interfere With Workplace Investigations

This post was contributed by Rick L. Etter, an associate in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Group.

The National Labor Relations Board recently issued a decision holding that an employer violates the National Labor Relations Act by establishing workplace investigation procedures, policies, or forms that attempt to prohibit employees from discussing ongoing workplace investigations with their coworkers. Specifically, the Board concluded that such a rule violates Section 7 of the NLRA, which protects employees’ rights to engage in “concerted activities” for their mutual aid and protection.

In Estrella Medical Center, the employer established a standard investigation process that included the reading of six introductory statements before each witness interview. One of the six statements was a confidentiality statement instructing the witness that he or she was prohibited from discussing matters related to the investigation until the investigation was complete. The Board determined that the employer failed to establish that its interest in protecting the integrity of the at-issue investigation outweighed the employee’s Section 7 rights because the employer developed a “blanket approach” of reading this statement before every interview. The Board explained that it is the employer’s burden to determine – on a case-by-case basis – whether the circumstances of each specific investigation are such that witnesses need protection, evidence is in danger of being destroyed, testimony is in danger of being fabricated, or there is a need to prevent a cover up. Only when one of these concerns is present will the employer’s interest in protecting the integrity of the investigation outweigh the employees’ Section 7 rights.

As a result of this decision, it would be prudent for all employers – union and non-union – to review their investigation policies, procedures, and forms to ensure that they cannot be interpreted as creating a blanket prohibition against employee discussion of workplace investigations.

Three's Company: NLRB Issues Third Social Media Policy Report

This post was contributed with the assistance of Lee E. Tankle, a summer associate with McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC.  Mr. Tankle will begin his third year of law school at William & Mary School of Law in the fall, and he expects to earn his J.D. in May 2013.

The National Labor Relations Board's ("NLRB") Acting General Counsel ("AGC") released yet another social media report recently (pdf), the third report in the last nine months. The report summarizes the AGC's view on seven social media policies' compliance with Sections 7 and 8 of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA").  This latest report, unlike the last two reports, does provide some guidance to employers on how to craft a social media policy that the AGC would deem lawful under the NLRA. 

Importantly, Section 7 applies to all employers covered by the NLRA, regardless of whether an employers' employees are represented by a union. Section 7 provides employees the right to collectively bargain, self-organize, form, join, and assist labor organizations as well as refrain from participation in any of these activities. Section 8 prohibits employer interference with the exercise of Section 7 rights and is violated if employer activity would reasonably tend to chill employees in the exercise of their Section 7 rights.

The AGC makes clear in the report that policies that are ambiguous as to their application to Section 7 activity, and policies that contain no limiting language or context to clarify that the policy will not interfere with Section 7 rights, will be deemed unlawful. According to the AGC, the following social media policy provisions could "chill" employee rights and are unlawful under the NLRA:

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NLRB's "Quickie Election" Rule Held Invalid on Technical Grounds

Back in December, we posted about the National Labor Relations Board’s (Board) resolution to change union election procedures. Among other things, the pro-union rule shortened the time between the filing of an election petition and the date of the election, thereby making it more difficult for employers to communicate with employees prior to the election. Later that month, two of the Board’s three members voted in favor of adopting the rule. The third member of the Board did not cast a vote or otherwise participate in the voting process. The rule took effect on April 30, 2012.

However, on May 14, 2012, the union election rule was held to be invalid. In Chamber of Commerce v. NLRB (pdf), the US District Court for the District of Columbia held that the Board lacked authority to adopt the final rule because a quorum of its members did not participate. Specifically, under the Labor Management Relations Act, three members of the Board constitute a quorum. However, only two Members were present during the final vote approving the rule.

It is important to note that the court’s ruling addressed only the quorum issue, refusing to reach—or express any opinion on—the merits of the final rule. The court stated that the union election rule could be lawful if issued through a procedurally sound voting process.

While the court’s decision will likely be appealed, the Board issued a press release on May 15, announcing that it has temporarily suspended implementation of the new union election procedures. The Board also directed its regional directors to revert to their prior practices for election petitions and procedures.

We will keep you updated as further developments in this area occur.

NLRB Notice Posting Saga Continues: Federal Court Blocks Board's Rule

The National Labor Relations Board’s notice posting rule has been under fire since it was issued last year. In the past few months, the rule has garnered significant attention in courts around the country. The rule would require all employers subject to the Board’s jurisdiction to notify employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act, including the right to unionize. To that end, employers were required to post a Notice of Employee Rights in the workplace by April 30, 2012.

Earlier this week, we reported on a recent decision from the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina striking down the Board’s notice posting rule because it went beyond the scope of the Board’s limited rulemaking authority. The South Carolina decision followed on the heels of a decision by the District Court for the District of Columbia that upheld the posting rule. (While the D.C. court upheld the posting requirement, it struck down the part of the rule that would impose penalties on employers who failed to comply.) Business groups immediately appealed the D.C. decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

In light of these conflicting decisions, and with the end of April quickly approaching, employers were left wondering whether the Board would again postpone the effective date of the rule. Well, employers just got an answer. Or at least a temporary one.

On April 17, 2012, in response to an emergency motion, the D.C. Circuit issued an injunction blocking the Board from implementing the posting rule during the appeal. In its decision granting the injunction, the D.C. Circuit referenced the earlier South Carolina opinion and the uncertainty about the enforcement of the rule.

As a result of the court’s injunction, employers nationwide are relieved from having to comply with the notice posting rule until the conclusion of the appeal. While the appeal is on an expedited schedule, a decision is not expected until September 2012 at the earliest.

Federal District Court Strikes Down NLRB Rule on Notice Posting

This post was contributed by Bruce D. Bagley, Esq., a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Law Practice Group.

Readers of this blog may recall our article from March 6, 2012, where we noted that the NLRB’s controversial Final Rule requiring employers to notify employees of their NLRA rights had been upheld by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (pdf). We pointed out at that time that there was another federal court challenge to the Final Rule which had not yet been adjudicated.

On April 13, 2012, Judge David C. Norton, of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, decided that the Board did not have the authority to issue the Notice Posting Rule (pdf) and therefore found it unlawful under the Administrative Procedure Act. 

Unlike Judge Jackson of the D.C. District Court, who ruled that the Board had “broad authority” to issue such rules, Judge Norton found that the Board’s rule-making authority was limited to subjects necessary to carry out its functions under the NLRA, such as investigating unfair labor practice charges and conducting representation elections. The Board’s role was to be “reactive,” Judge Norton held, not “proactive.” He also questioned whether the Board's Final Rule was consistent with Congressional intent, noting as follows:

"Congress has inserted at least eight additional notice requirements in federal labor laws since 1934, while the NLRA remained silent. . . . Congress clearly knows how to include a notice-posting requirement in a federal labor statute when it so desires."

Of most immediate concern is how the Board will respond to the South Carolina decision, which on its face relieves only South Carolina employers from the obligation to post the Notice which is otherwise effective on April 30. No doubt the Board will appeal Judge Norton’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. (The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is already considering appeals from Judge Jackson’s March 2012 decision.)

Will the Board voluntarily delay the effective date of the posting requirement pending further developments? We would hope that as a federal agency charged with implementing uniform, nation-wide labor relations policies, the Board will again postpone the posting requirement, but we shall await the Board’s pronouncement and will communicate further once the Board announces its decision.

NLRB to Expand Outreach Campaign Targeting Nonunion Employees

The National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB”) aggressive campaign to educate non-union employees about their rights under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) is in full swing.

In addition to the mandatory notice posting requirement that will go into effect for all employers on April 30, the NLRB recently announced its plan to launch a new website designed to educate both union and non-union employees about their rights under the NLRA. These rights include the rights to discuss working conditions and to present grievances to their employers. Under the NLRA, employees have a right to engage in such “protected concerted activity,” even when they are not union employees or involved in union organizing efforts.

The new website will be rolled out in mid-April, just before employers are required to post the Notice of Employee Rights. The NLRB also plans to distribute pamphlets, published in both English and Spanish, addressing workers’ rights and to publicly discuss this information across various media outlets.

This aggressive educational campaign could lead to more complaints from workers. Accordingly, employers should ensure that they have appropriate policies in place that comply with the NLRA. Employers also should ensure that their managers are properly informed of employee rights under the NLRA and trained on how to respond to employee complaints.

We will keep you updated as new developments are announced.

Second Verse: Worse Than the First!

This post was contributed by Jennifer E. Will, Esq., a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Law Practice Group.

You may recall a prior entry on this site detailing the National Labor Relations Board's Acting General Counsel's first social media report. The Acting General Counsel's second report was issued just six months later, which highlights how quickly the issues surrounding social media in the workplace are developing. It is important for private sector employers to remember that the National Labor Relations Act ("Act") applies, whether or not employees are represented by a union.

According to the new report, the following common policy provisions may be unlawful because they "chill" employees' rights under Section 7 of the Act:

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Federal Court Gives Green Light To NLRB's Notice Posting Requirement But Strikes Several Enforcement Provisions from the Board's Final Rule

This post was contributed by Bruce D. Bagley, Esq., a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Law Practice Group.

As readers of this blog may recall, on August 30, 2011, the National Labor Relations Board (Board) issued its Final Rule, “Notification of Employee Rights under the National Labor Relations Act.” The Final Rule required employers subject to the Act (virtually all private sector employers) to post a rather large conspicuous “Notice of Employee Rights” to inform employees that they have the right to join unions, organize, engage in collective bargaining, strike, picket, etc.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) challenged the Board’s authority to require such posting and filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington, D.C. On March 2, 2012, Judge Amy Berman Jackson (appointed to the bench by President Obama in 2011), issued a “split decision” in the matter, upholding the Board’s right to require the notice posting, but finding unlawful and striking those provisions in the Rule which would have (1) automatically deemed the failure to post the notice to be an unfair labor practice (ULP), and (2) tolled the six-month statute of limitations for filing a ULP Charge against an employer who had failed to post the notice.

In finding that the Board had authority to require the notice posting, Judge Jackson found no indication that in enacting the Act, Congress clearly intended to preclude the Board from promulgating such a rule. She went on to find that the Board’s promulgation of the Rule was neither arbitrary nor capricious, and given the lack of Congressional prohibition, the Board had sufficient legal authority to require the notice posting.

But, according to Judge Jackson, the Board did not have the requisite authority to deem failure to post as a new category of ULP under the Act. She did, however, leave that door open a bit, holding that the Board could still find failure to post to be a ULP in an individual case based on the facts and circumstances of that case. The Board just could not make a blanket advance decision that in every case failure to post would automatically constitute a ULP.

Judge Jackson further found that the Board had exceeded its statutory authority by purporting to toll the statute of limitations against those employers who fail to post. The Court noted that it was the Board’s burden to prove, in any individual case, that there are equitable reasons to toll the statute of limitations, and that automatic tolling under the Final Rule would “turn the burden of proof on its head.”

All in all, NAM v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd. was a disappointing decision for employers and probably for the Board as well. It should be noted, however, that this case was not the only legal challenge to the Board’s Final Rule. The U. S. Chamber of Commerce has a separate suit pending in federal district court in Charleston, SC, and Judge Jackson’s decision will not be binding in the South Carolina court. Additionally, it is quite likely that Judge Jackson’s decision will be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In the meantime, unless there is some further judicial action to the contrary, employers subject to the Act are advised to post the Notice of Employee Rights effective April 30, 2012, copies of which can be found and reproduced from the Board’s web site.


Appealing an Arbitration Decision - A Success Story

Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued an interesting decision involving the appeal of a grievance arbitration decision filed by a Commonwealth Agency – the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. The decision, Department of Corrections v. Pa. State Corrections Officers' Association (pdf), offers unionized employers a reminder of the difficult hurdle that they face when appealing a grievance arbitration decision. But the decision also demonstrates that such appeals can be successful.

The decision resolved a conflict between the Department and the union that represents the Department's corrections officers regarding how positions, or posts, would be filled at state correctional facilities. The union was seeking to have all (or nearly all) posts be designated as “bid posts.” A bid post is one where, upon vacancy, the position would be filled according to a seniority bidding procedure that, in effect, left the choice to the officers. The Department, on the other hand, was trying to limit the number of bid posts so as to retain its right to assign employees to posts at its discretion. Bid posts had been a point of contention between the parties for some time and had been the subject of many prior disputes. In the past, the individual correctional facilities were left to determine through negotiations with the local union which posts would be designated as bid posts at the particular institution. This approach lead to a great deal of inconsistency in the designation of bid posts across the Department.

The parties continued to struggle over the bid post designation, and eventually an arbitrator defined the criteria to be used to designate jobs as "bid post" positions. The arbitrator’s definition of bid post was incorporated into the parties' 2008-2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”). The CBA also directed the parties to review all existing posts and mutually determine whether each post satisfied the arbitrator’s definition for a bid post. Not surprisingly, the parties could not agree on the application of the definition to the posts. In fact, the parties were unable to reach agreement on a single post designation. To break the logjam, the parties again turned to an arbitrator, who was asked to review every post in every correctional facility to determine whether it was a bid post.

This second arbitrator reviewed every post and, applying the original arbitrator’s definition, determined which posts would be bid by seniority. Interestingly, the arbitrator ordered that any post that previously had been designated as a bid post at the local level, whether it met the new definition or not, was also to remain a bid post. As this approach significantly increased the number of bid posts, the Department appealed this portion of the arbitrator's decision to the Commonwealth Court. On appeal, the Department argued that the arbitrator, by grandfathering the bid post designation for certain posts regardless of whether they met the new definition, contradicted the language of the CBA.

Those with experience in grievance arbitration know that attempting to overturn an arbitrator's decision can seem nearly impossible.

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NLRB Again Postpones Employee Notice Rule's Effective Date

On December 23, 2011, the National Labor Relations Board announced that it had agreed to again postpone the effective date of its controversial Employee Notice Posting Rule.  In the news release announcing the postponement, the Board confirmed that the postponement was agreed to at the request of the federal court in Washington, D.C., which is hearing one of the legal challenges to the Notice Posting requirement. 

On October 6, 2011, we discussed the requirements of the Notice Posting Rule and the Board's announcement that it was delaying the implementation date for the Notice Posting Rule until January 31, 2012

The Notice Posting Rule will now become effective on April 30, 2012, if the challenges to the Rule are unsuccessful. 


NLRB Votes To Change Union Election Procedures (But Doesn't Go All The Way!)

This post was contributed by Bruce D. Bagley, Esq., a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Group.

On November 30, 2011, by a vote of 2-1, a bitterly divided National Labor Relations Board (Board) resolved to move forward with some, but decidedly not all, of the procedural changes it had proposed on June 22. While the Board’s Democratic majority referenced its desire to reduce “unnecessary, expensive, and time-consuming litigation for the Board and all parties,” the dissenting Republican Member, and most observers, have more accurately described the measure as another effort to shorten the time from the filing of an election petition to the date of the election. This would make it more difficult for employers to communicate with employees prior to the vote, and make it easier for unions to win more elections (although unions are already winning elections at a historically high rate of around 70%!).

The Board’s resolution will result in the drafting of a Final Rule, which will then have to be circulated to the Board Members for approval, and if passed (very likely given the November 30 resolution), will then be published in the Federal Register. So, despite considerable publicity given to the November 30 vote, the changes are not yet imminent.

The changes would apply to those cases where the employer and union are unable to agree on the terms of a voluntary election agreement, circumstances which then require the Board to conduct a hearing. One change would be to substantially limit the issues which can be litigated at the pre-election hearing, depriving the employer of the right to litigate issues related to voter eligibility prior to the election. Indeed, such issues would be relegated to the challenged ballot procedure, with resolution by the Board after the election has been held.

But suppose the voter eligibility issue involves the common question of who is to be excluded from voting on the basis of supervisory status?

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NLRB Administrative Law Judge Issues Another Social Media Decision

On September 28, 2011, a National Labor Relations Board (Board) Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that an employee who was discharged for posts he made on his Facebook page was not discharged in violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). In Knauz Motors, Inc., Case No. 13-CA-46452 (pdf), the ALJ found that the employee's Facebook posts contained both protected and non-protected activity, but that the employee was terminated for only the non-protected activity. As a result, the ALJ refused to find that the employee's discharge was unlawful.

The decision involved two different threads on the employee's Facebook page. The first included "mocking and sarcastic" pictures and comments about a sales event at the car dealership where the employee worked. The employee was dissatisfied with the food selection for the event, which included hotdogs among other things. The employee expressed his displeasure about the food selection at a meeting prior to the event, and another employee voiced a similar complaint. The ALJ found that since more than one employee complained about the food, the complaints constituted "concerted" activity.

The employee later testified that he believed that the food selection would impact his compensation, a term and condition of employment, because the dealership was a luxury car dealership and serving hotdogs might offend customers. However, the employee never mentioned any connection to compensation in his complaint during the meeting or on Facebook. Nonetheless, the ALJ found that the food selection at the event, even though "not likely," could have had an effect on compensation. As such, the ALJ concluded that the employee's complaints and the Facebook pictures and comments about the sales event constituted protected activity under the NLRA.

However, the second Facebook thread, which contained pictures and comments regarding an accident at a related dealership, was not protected activity.

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NLRB Postpones Employee Notification Rule's Effective Date

This post was contributed by Adam R. Long, Esq., a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Group. 

In August, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a controversial Final Rule that would require most private-sector employers to notify their employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act with a new mandatory workplace poster. The rule's effective date originally was November 14, 2011.

Groups like the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed lawsuits seeking to block the implementation of the rule's notice-posting requirements. These groups challenged the rule on various grounds, including their position that the rule's notice-posting requirements exceed the NLRB's statutory authority.

On October 5, 2011, the NLRB announced that it was delaying the implementation date for the notice-posting rule until January 31, 2012. The NLRB claimed that it postponed the deadline "in the interest of ensuring broad voluntary compliance."  Other reports indicate that the NLRB postponed the implementation date in response to a specific request to do so by the Judge in one of the pending cases challenging the rule.

Regardless of the NLRB's actual motivation, the decision to delay the notice-posting rule's effective date gives most private-sector employers a reprieve from posting the controversial notice. Employers should continue to monitor this issue, as courts considering the various challenges to the rule likely will issue decisions between now and January 31 that may affect the posting requirement and/or its effective date.

Please note that the NLRB's notice-posting rule and the postponement of its effective date do not affect federal contractors, who already are required to post a similar notice under Executive Order 13496 . Executive Order 13496 applies to (1) most contractors and subcontractors who hold a Federal or Federally-assisted construction contract in excess of $10,000; (2) most non-construction contractors and subcontractors who have a government contract or subcontract, or government bills of lading, of $10,000 or more; and (3) any entity that either serves as a depository of Federal funds in any amount or is a financial institution that is an issuing and paying agent for U.S. savings bonds or savings notes in any amount.

NLRB Issues Controversial Employee Notification Rule

On August 25, 2011, the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") announced the issuance of a "Final Rule" that will require employers to notify employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"). The Final Rule will take effect on November 14, 2011.

Which employers are affected by the Final Rule? The Final Rule applies to any employer that is covered by the NLRA. This includes most employers in the private sector; however, certain employers with an annual business volume of less than $500,000 may be excluded. Small businesses should consult with counsel to determine whether they fall under the NLRB's jurisdiction. Federal contractors who already post a similar notice under Executive Order 13496 are deemed to comply with the Final Rule if they comply with notice posting regulations under the Executive Order.

What are the notification requirements? Covered employers must post the required notice "in conspicuous places" where it is "readily seen by employees, including all places where notices to employees concerning personnel rules or policies are customarily posted." The required notice informs employees of their rights under the NLRA. These include the rights to organize a union, bargain collectively, discuss wages with co-workers and to engage in a strike and other "protected concerted activity." The notice also provides information as to how employees may contact the NLRB for more information regarding their rights.

The required poster will be made available on the NLRB website. Employers may post the official color poster that appears on the NLRB website, or a black and white photocopy of it; however, all posted notices must be at least 11" by 17" and the same font as the official notice. In workplaces where 20% or more of the workforce is not proficient in English, special rules apply regarding posting the notice in other languages. Electronic posting on a company's intranet or Internet site is also required "if the employer customarily communicates with its employees about personnel rules or policies by such means."

What happens if an employer fails to comply? Employees may report employer non-compliance to the NLRB and failure to post the notice may result in the filing of an unfair labor practice charge ("ULP") with the Board. The Final Rule provides detailed instructions to employees on the process for filing a ULP charge. If an employer refuses to comply after receiving notice of non-compliance, the Regional Director for the NLRB may issue a formal complaint and schedule a hearing before a federal administrative law judge who may then issue an order requiring posting. A willful refusal to post the notice may be deemed by the NLRB as evidence of "unlawful motive" in cases where an employee alleges other violations of the NLRA (e.g. discrimination on the basis of union activity). In addition, in such cases where an employer fails to post the notice, the Board may excuse employees from the six-month statute of limitations for filing ULP charges based on other alleged unlawful conduct by the employer.

Why is the Final Rule controversial? The Final Rule is particularly controversial because the threat of union organizing is a hot button issue for many employers and the Final Rule is widely viewed as a political payback to unions by the current Administration. The sole Republican appointee on the Board dissented to the issuance of the Final Rule. Although employers are already required to post notices under several other federal employment laws (e.g. Title VII), those laws typically contain specific notice provisions – the NLRA does not. This is the first posting requirement of general applicability issued by the NLRB since the NLRA was passed in 1935. It remains to be seen whether business groups or political opponents of the Final Rule will take legal or political action to block enforcement.

If you have any questions regarding the Final Rule, you may contact any member of McNees Wallace & Nurick's Labor and Employment Law Group by clicking here.

NLRB Announces Proposed Rule Changes That Will Greatly Assist Union Organizing

This post was contributed by Bruce D. Bagley, Esq., a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Group, and Adam L. Santucci, Esq., an Associate in the Group.

On June 22, 2011, the National Labor Relations Board (Board) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that, if finalized, would significantly change the union representation election process. According to a Board "Fact Sheet," the changes are designed to "reduce unnecessary litigation, streamline pre- and post-election procedures and facilitate the use of electronic communication and document filing." But the lone Republican Board Member, Brian E. Hayes, in a stinging dissent, seems to have more accurately characterized the proposed rule change as an "administrative fiat" which will "impose organized labor's much sought-after 'quickie election' option, a procedure under which elections will be held in 10 to 21 days from the filing of the petition." Hayes further described the proposal as an effort "to eviscerate an employer's legitimate opportunity to express its views about collective bargaining."

The time between the date the petition is filed and the date of the election is critical for employers, because it is often the only time the employer will have to express its views regarding unionization. Often an organizing effort may have been ongoing for weeks or months without the employer's knowledge, and the employer only learns of the campaign when the election petition is filed with the Board. This means that the employees are only getting one side of the story, the union's side, prior to the filing of the petition. A shorter time between the filing of the petition and the election date will deprive employers of the time necessary to fairly present both sides of the representation question to employees.

Currently, the Board's operational goal is 42 days between the filing of the petition and the election, with the median time actually being only 38 days. Under the proposed rules, this time would be shortened significantly. The changes would require a pre-election hearing within seven (7) days of the filing of the petition and would defer rulings on any election issues until after the election, unless the issues would impact at least 20 percent of eligible voters. After an election has been directed, the employer would have only two (2) days to produce a list of eligible voters (not the current seven (7) days), which must include the names, home addresses, phone numbers, and if available, email addresses of these individuals. Currently, only names and addresses are required. In addition, the Board would have discretion to decline to review Regional Director rulings on post-election challenges.

These proposed rule changes, which also include the implementation of electronic filing of petitions, may not be quite as drastic as the changes that would have been wrought by the failed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Nonetheless, the proposed changes have been highly applauded by unions (which are already winning NLRB elections - 69% of elections held in 2009 and 68% of elections held in 2010). EFCA would have eliminated secret ballot elections, required arbitration over the terms of a first collective bargaining agreement if the parties were unable to reach agreement, and increased penalties for employers that engaged in unfair labor practices. EFCA has stalled since the November 2008 elections, and it seems that the Board's real motivation in proposing the election changes is to enable organized labor to increase its representation in the private sector workforce, where only 7% of employees are currently unionized.

In other recent developments, the activist Obama Board has also filed a lawsuit against Boeing Co., over Boeing's decision to perform manufacturing work at a non-union facility in South Carolina. The Board has also been highly active in protecting and advocating the use of social media for employees and unions. And, in December 2010, the Board announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would require virtually all private sector employers to post a notice to employees regarding their rights to organize under the National Labor Relations Act. In addition, the Department of Labor has announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would require further disclosure of employer use of consultants during union organizing campaigns, in an obvious effort to discourage the use of such consultants.

These developments send a loud and clear message that the current administration emphatically supports union organizing efforts. Employers must be aware that if the Board's proposed rules become final, employers will be significantly restricted in their ability to respond to union organizing campaigns. Therefore, employers must become more proactive than ever in addressing employee relations issues now and conducting union avoidance training for their supervisors and managers.

National Labor Relations Board Proposes Rule Requiring Posting of Employee Rights

On December 21, 2010, the National Labor Relations Board ("Board") issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (pdf), which, if finalized, would require employers to notify employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act ("Act"). If you would like to review the Board's News Release regarding the proposed rule, please click here (pdf).

The proposed rule would apply to private sector employers covered by the Act, and would require posting of the notice were workplace notices are typically posted. The rule would require electronic posting of the notice if the employer typically posts workplace notices electronically.

Employers interesting in commenting on the proposed rule may do so by following the instructions in the proposed rule. All employers covered by the Act should be sure to stay tuned to ensure compliance, if the proposed rule is finalized.

Obama Board Expands Unions' Right To Engage In Secondary Boycotts: Stationary "Bannering" Held Not Equivalent To Picketing And Deemed To Be Lawful

This post was contributed by Bruce D. Bagley, Esq., a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Practice Group.  

In its first major ruling since being reconstituted by President Obama, the Democrat-controlled National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has rejected the position of the NLRB's General Counsel and has determined that stationary bannering does not violate Section 8(b)(4)(B) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local Union No. 1506, 355 NLRB No. 159 (2010). This decision gives labor unions a powerful weapon: the ability to pressure a secondary (neutral) employer and its customers, in order to gain leverage over the primary employer with whom the union actually has its dispute. The facts in United Brotherhood illustrate the point below.

The Carpenters Union had primary labor disputes with four construction contractors in Arizona, claiming that the contractors failed to pay wages and benefits in accord with "area standards." In furtherance of its primary disputes, the Union protested at two hospitals and a restaurant, secondary employers with whom the Union had no primary dispute. The four construction contractors had engaged in construction work at the sites of the secondary employers.
Section 8(b)(4)(B) of the Act makes it an unfair labor practice for a union to "threaten, coerce, or restrain" a secondary employer where an object is to cause the secondary employer to cease doing business with the primary employer. At issue in United Brotherhood was whether the Union's conduct in "bannering" was the equivalent of picketing, which would have been clearly unlawful, or more like non-coercive peaceful "handbilling," which clearly would have been lawful.

At each of the secondary employers' locations the Union displayed a large stationary banner, either stating "Shame On __________," naming the hospital, or "Don't Eat At __________," naming the restaurant. The banners were three or four feet high and from 15 to 20 feet long. The banners were held in place at each location by two or three Union representatives. The banners were placed anywhere from 15 to 1,050 feet from the nearest entry to the secondaries' establishments. The Union representatives also offered flyers to anyone who would take them, explaining therein that the Union's underlying complaint was with the construction contractors, and that by using these contractors, the hospital or restaurant was contributing to the undermining of area wage standards.

At noted above, the NLRB's General Counsel (as well as the Charging Parties) argued that bannering was the equivalent of picketing, that "picketing exists where a union posts individuals at or near the entrance to a place of business for the purpose of influencing customers, suppliers, and employees to support the union's position in a labor dispute." But a majority of the NLRB disagreed (the two Republican appointees dissenting), finding that bannering was not picketing or its equivalent, because there was no "confrontational" conduct, such as patrolling back and forth in front of the entrance while carrying placards. Absent confrontational conduct, the majority concluded, bannering was more like peaceful handbilling, an exercise in "free speech," and therefore did not "threaten, coerce, or restrain" the secondary employers as would picketing.

There was a vigorous dissent by the minority members of the NLRB, who concluded there was no meaningful distinction between bannering and picketing. All parties would have agreed that a single picketer patrolling back and forth with a sign saying "Don't Eat Here Because This Restaurant Was Built With Non-Union Labor" would be engaged in unlawful secondary boycott picketing. Yet the NLRB's majority would find that three union protesters holding a much larger banner saying the same thing would not be engaged in unlawful conduct because the bannering allegedly does not rise to the level of confrontational conduct!

It will be interesting to see how this decision may be viewed by the reviewing federal Courts of Appeal. In any event, it provides a dramatic example of how the present Obama Board may construe the NLRA in an effort to expand the weaponry and capabilities of organized labor.

Failure to Pay Union Dues is Willful Misconduct under Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Law

In the recent case of Anderson Equip. Co. v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, 994 A.2d 1192 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2010) (pdf), the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania examined whether an employee engages in willful misconduct when he fails to pay union fees and dues in violation of his employer's collective bargaining agreement (CBA).  The court held that the employee engaged in willful misconduct by failing to pay his union dues and that the employee did not have good cause for his misconduct.  Thus, the court found that the employee was not entitled to unemployment benefits.

The CBA between the employer and the union required all employees to be members of the union, and prohibited the employer from employing non-union members for more than 90 days. The employee in Anderson Equip. Co. failed to join the union because he claimed he did not have the money to pay the union initiation fees and union dues. The employee attempted to work with the union to establish a payment plan, but was unsuccessful. After several months and several warnings, the employer fired the employee for his failure to secure his union membership.

Under the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Law, an employee is not eligible for unemployment compensation benefits if he or she is discharged for willful misconduct. Willful misconduct includes a disregard for the employer's interest, a deliberate violation of work rules, the disregard of standards of behavior expected of employees, or a substantial and intentional disregard for the employer's interest or the employee's duties and responsibilities. If the employer proves that the employee engaged in willful misconduct by deliberately violating a work rule, the employee can attempt to establish good cause for the violation. Good cause is established if the employee acted justifiably and reasonably under the circumstances.

In Anderson Equip. Co., the primary issue was whether the employee's inability to pay the fees and dues was good cause for violating the work rule. The court found that the employee's inability to pay the fees did not constitute good cause because the former employee could have saved the necessary money during his 90 day probationary period. The court held that the employee had advanced notice of the need to pay the fees and dues, but he decided instead to violate the rule by not paying to join union. Because his inability to pay the fees was not justification for his violation of the rule, the employee was not eligible for unemployment benefits.

This case provides a good summary of the rules associated with willful misconduct under the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Law in conjunction with union membership issues. The case also provides some positive news for employers who may find themselves between a rock and a hard place when forced to discharge employees who fail to pay their union fees and dues.

New Employee Rights Poster Issued for Federal Contractors

Executive Order 13496, requires federal contractors to post a notice regarding employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act, among other things. The Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued final regulations (pdf) implementing the Executive Order.

Who is covered by the posting requirement?
Prime contracts under $100,000 and subcontracts under $10,000 are not covered by the notice requirements. In addition, government contracts resulting from solicitations issued before June 21, 2010 are exempt. However, it is possible that an exempt contract may nevertheless contain a provision requiring the posting – so careful review of all recent and future federal contracts and subcontracts for this requirement is advisable.

What is the posting requirement?
Covered contractors are required to post a notice "of such size and in such form, and containing such content as the Secretary of Labor shall prescribe…" In other words, contractors don't have the discretion to alter the form of the DOL poster. The DOL poster is currently in two forms:  a one-page 11"x17" version or a two-page 11"x8.5" format.

When does the Executive Order take Effect?
Covered contractors are required to comply by June 21, 2010.

Where must the notice be posted?
The DOL regulations issued state that the notice must be posted:

  • "In conspicuous places in and in and about the contractor's…offices so that the notice is prominent and readily seen by employees…[including, but not limited to]…areas in which the contractor posts notices to employees about the employees' terms and conditions of employment";
  • "Where employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act engage in activities relating to the performance of the [federal] contract" (i.e. work that fulfills a contractual obligation or facilitates performance of the contract or jobs for which the cost or a portion of the cost is allowable as a cost of the contract);
  • A contractor that "customarily posts notices to employees electronically must also post the required notice electronically."

Compliance may require posting in multiple locations (at a minimum, with other postings and where employees performing contract work perform their jobs), electronically and in other languages if a "significant portion" of the contractor's workforce is not proficient in English.

What happens to contractors that fail to comply?
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) will enforce the Executive Order, and may conduct "evaluations" to determine whether a contractor is in compliance. In addition, employees and individuals may file complaints with the OFCCP or the Office of Labor-Management Standards. If a contractor is found to be in violation, the OFCCP will first seek voluntary compliance. If a contractor still fails to comply, then further action will be taken, including the issuing of a cease and desist order and other "appropriate remedies," which may include penalties and sanctions, including the suspension, cancellation or termination of the contract and even disbarment.

Federal contractors, subcontractors and potential contractors should carefully review Executive Order 13496 and ensure compliance with all of its provisions.

EFCA Resurrected: Pennsylvania Senator Specter switches Political Parties

Veteran Republican Senator Arlen Specter disclosed plans Tuesday to switch parties, a defection that will move Democrats closer to total control of the U.S. Senate. The switch may also revive EFCA in its original form despite Senator Specter's withdraw of support for the pro-union legislation last month. Senator Specter faces a difficult primary in Pennsylvania

Senator Specter was a co-sponsor of EFCA last year but withdrew his support.  In an announcement made on March 24, 2009, he proposed alternative amendments to the NLRA addressing his perceived issues in delays and problems with the unionization process.  His floor comments on his change of heart about EFCA will require some political backtracking, if he is now to support the measure consistent with his new party's position:

On the merits, the issue which has emerged at the top of the list for me is the elimination of the secret ballot which is the cornerstone of how contests are decided in a democratic society. The bill’s requirement for compulsory arbitration if an agreement is not reached within 120 days may subject the employer to a deal he or she cannot live with. Such arbitration runs contrary to the basic tenet of the Wagner Act for collective bargaining which makes the employer liable only for a deal he or she agrees to. The arbitration provision could be substantially improved by the last best offer procedure which would limit the arbitrator’s discretion and prompt the parties to move to more reasonable positions. 

For now, EFCA in its original form, may have been given new life in the Senate.

Arbitration of Discrimination Claims upheld by U.S. Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court upheld a provision in a collective-bargaining agreement that clearly and unmistakably requires union members to arbitrate ADEA claims is enforceable as a matter of federal law. Accordingly, there is no legal basis for the Court to strike down an arbitration clause in a collective bargaining agreement, which was freely negotiated by a union and company, and which clearly and unmistakably requires employees to arbitrate the age-discrimination claims. However, the Court declined to rule on specific factual issued related to whether the waiver of discrimination claims under the contract by employees' in this case was clear and unmistakable. It also would not rule on whether the contract waived substantive rights protected by federal law which could not be vindicated in an arbitration. These issues were not properly before the Court.

The decision in 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett has important implications for unionized employers who face employment discrimination charges and lawsuits. These claims may be forced into the arbitration forum and out of court depending on the language in the contract. The scope of the arbitration clause including any limitations will be an important focus of future litigation.

Pennsylvania Senator Specter Opposes EFCA but Suggests extensive NLRA Reform

Senator Arlen Specter announced his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act as currently proposed. His vote was critical to the Democrats efforts to invoke cloture under Senate rules and bring the bill to a vote that would almost certainly have gained a simple majority to pass. The Senator's comments on the Senate Floor acknowledge the importance of his vote:

In June 2007, the vote on the Employee Free Choice was virtually monolithic: 50 Senators, Democrats, voted for cloture and 48 Republicans against. I was the only Republican to vote for cloture. The prospects for the next cloture vote are virtually the same. No Democratic Senator has spoken out against cloture. Republican Senators are outspoken in favor of a filibuster. With the prospects of a Democratic win in Minnesota, yet uncertain, it appears that 59 Democrats will vote to proceed with 40 Republicans in opposition. If so, the decisive vote would be mine. In a highly polarized Senate, many decisive votes are left to a small group who are willing to listen, reject ideological dogmatism, disagree with the party line and make an independent judgment. It is an anguishing position, but we play the cards we are dealt.

The Senator's floor comments left open the possibility that he would support some other initiative to reform the unionization process and identified the following specific suggestions:


(1) Establishing a timetable:

(a) Require that an election must be held within 10 days of a filing of a joint petition from the employer and the union

(b) In the absence of a joint petition, require the NLRB to resolve issues on the bargaining unit and eligibility to vote within 14 days from the filing of the petition and the election 7 days thereafter. The Board may extend the time for the election to 14 additional days if the Board sets forth specifics on factual or legal issues of exceptional complexity justifying the extension.

(c) Challenges to the voting would have to be filed within 5 days with the Board having 15 days to resolve any disputes with an additional 10 days if they find issues of exceptional complexity.

(2) Adding unfair labor practices:

(a) an employer or union official visits to an employee at his/her home without prior consent for any purpose related to a representation campaign;

(b) an employer holds employees in a “captive audience” speech unless the union has equal time under identical circumstances;

(c) an employer or union engages in campaign related activities aimed at employees within 24 hours prior to an election.

(3) Authorizing the NLRB to impose treble back pay without reduction for mitigation when an employee is unlawfully fired

(4) Authorizing civil penalties up to $20,000 per violation on an NLRB finding of willful and repeated violations of employees’ statutory rights by an employer or union during an election campaign

(5) Require the parties to begin negotiations within 21 days after a union is certified. If there is no agreement after 120 days from the first meeting, either party may call for mediation by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service

(6) On a finding that a party is not negotiating in good faith, an order may be issued establishing a schedule for negotiation and imposing costs and attorney fees.

(7) Broaden the provisions for injunctive relief with reasonable attorneys’ fees on a finding that either party is not acting in good faith

(8) Require a dissent by a member of the Board to be completed 45 days after the majority opinion is filed;

(9) Establish a certiorari-type process where the Board would exercise discretion on reviewing challenges from decisions by an administrative law judge or regional director.

(10) If the Board does not grant review or fails to issue a decision within 180 days after receiving the record, the decision of the administrative judge or regional director would be final.

(11) Authorizing the award of reasonable attorneys’ fees on a finding of harassment, causing unnecessary delay or bad faith

(12) Modify the NLRA to give the court broader discretion to impose a Gissel order on a finding that the environment has deteriorated to the extent that a fair election is not possible.

Employee Free Choice Act Moving Forward, Are You?

On March 10, 2009, Representative George Miller introduced the Employee Free Choice Act of 2009 (H.R. 1409) The Bill has 222 cosponsors from the House of Representatives comprised of 435 members. The Bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor. You can keep track of its progress through an RSS Feed.

H.R 1409 is identical to H.R. 800 which passed in the House of Representatives by roll call vote last year. Last year's vote totals were 241 Ayes, 185 Nays, 8 Present/Not Voting. Last year H.R. 800 failed a cloture motion, preventing consideration of the bill, in the Senate by roll call vote. The totals were 51 Ayes, 48 Nays, 1 Present/Not Voting. Obviously, the political composition of Congress has dramatically changed since last year's votes.

The Text of the Bill is relatively brief but its impact is great. The Bill has three sections, streamlining union certification, facilitating initial collective bargaining agreements, and strengthening enforcement. Read the Bill so you can discuss it intelligently. Observe that there is no effective date for the legislation included in the Bill once it is passed by Congress.  However, well before the time it is enacted, employers should already have implemented a responsive strategy.

Obama Executive Order promotes use of Union Contractors

Executive Order 13502 is the first step to funneling a significant portion of the $787 billion in Stimulus Bill money to union workers. Executive Order 13502 promotes the use of Project Labor Agreements in large scale construction projects where the total cost to the federal government exceeds $25 million. Bush Administration Executive Orders prohibiting the use of project labor agreements have been revoked under the Obama Executive Order.

The term "project labor agreement" as used in this order means a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor organizations that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project and is an agreement described in 29 U.S.C. 158(f).   Project Labor Agreements require all contractors, whether they are unionized or not, to subject themselves and their employees to unionization in order to work on a government-funded construction project. The terms of the union collective bargaining agreement are part of the public construction project's bid specifications.  In order to receive a contract, a contractor must sign the agreement and subject its employees union dues and work rules on the construction project.

E.O 13502 is currently discretionary allowing the executive agency to mandate the use of PLAs if it determines that a PLA will "advance the Federal Government's interest in achieving economy and efficiency in Federal procurement, producing labor-management stability, and ensuring compliance with laws and regulations governing safety and health, equal employment opportunity, labor and employment standards, and other matters." However, E.O. 13502 requires the Department of Labor and OMB to make a recommendation about whether broader use of project labor agreements would help to promote the economical, efficient, and timely completion of such projects. The recommendation is due by early August, 2009 and is to cover both Federal construction projects those receiving Federal financial assistance.

The likely result of the DOL/OMB study will be the expanded requirements for project labor agreements to all federal and federally assisted construction contracts. Given the enormity of government spending on public works project under the current and future stimulus bills, project labor agreements are a huge boon for unions. Similar union preferences may also find their way in other aspects of federal contracting affecting trillions of dollars in government spending.

Nonunion employers, already facing enhanced unionization risks, must further prepare to impact of project labor agreements. Strategies in this area may include business restructuring through double breasting, training managers and adopting defensive policies and practices.

EFCA Legislation may be Introduced as early as March 9, 2009

The Employee Free Choice Act will reportedly be introduced in Congress on Monday, March 9, 2009 according to the National Association of Manufacturers blog called The ShopFloor.   Unions are mobilizing their membership for passage by targeting legislators with messages like the following one appearing on the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO:

On Monday, March 9th Congressman George Miller and Senator Ted Kennedy are expected to introduce the Employee Free Choice Act into the House of Representatives. 

This is the first step in the long fight to make the Employee Free Choice Act the law in this country. We have a lot of work to do, including convincing Senator Feinstein that the Employee Free Choice Act is good for workers, our communities and critical to rebuilding our economy because it opens the door for us to earn better wages, health care and retirement benefits by signing a card to join a union.

Meanwhile, President Obama reportedly told AFL-CIO leaders that EFCA will pass giving his backing to the bill according to a Wall Street Journal report.  One labor scholar has begun an EFCA Countdown, while acknowledging EFCA's passage may be a bloody fight.

Union Leader Predicts EFCA passage by August 2009

Andy Stern, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), was recently interviewed by USA Today where he predicted the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) by August. 

Unions have substantial political clout and this prediction should be respected. According to Department of Labor filings, the SEIU has almost 1.7 million members and spent $32.9 million on political activities and lobbying in 2007. The SEIU's 2008 report will likely show an increase in its political spending on the Presidential Election. Mr. Stern has also expressed his sentiments on organized labor's role in the election and its expectations in a Wall Street Journal Interview as follows:

"We just won an election. It's no secret." By "we," Andy Stern means "American workers." He also means Big Labor. Speaking on behalf of the fastest growing trade group in America, the Service Employees International Union -- and as one of labor's most powerful figures today -- Mr. Stern sets this simple bar for the Obama presidency: "I expect nothing less than what he said he was going to do, and we should hold him accountable."

Labor has its sights on EFCA and this pending legislation has enormous potential consequences for employers. Currently, employers cannot make significant workplace policy or other changes once a union files a petition for election. Under EFCA, there may not be an election, only a card check.  Employers may not be aware of organizing efforts or have insufficient time to react. Employers should be putting into place union avoidance programs before EFCA becomes law. Developing an action plan should include the following items:

  • Assessing union eligibility of working supervisors under RESPECT Act.
  • Educating supervisors on authorization cards and the Nuts and Bolts of EFCA.
  • Adopting union-free policies on solicitation, bulletin boards, and use of e-mail.
  • Initiating engagement surveys.

More information is contained in our prior posts as follows:

Nuts and Bolts of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and RESPECT

Bosses do not Deserve RESPECT

Why not Educate Employees on the Significance of Union Authorization Cards?

Employee Engagement Surveys may be Critical to Combating Union Organizing Efforts

NOW is the Time for Employers to Gear up for the Employee Free Choice Act (Unions Are)

New Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis

The Associated Press reports that "California Rep. Hilda Solis won confirmation Tuesday as President Barack Obama's labor secretary, giving the agency a decidedly pro-worker tilt after years of business-friendly leadership under the Bush administration…. The 80-17 vote ended more than a month of delays prompted by GOP concerns over Democrat Solis' work for a pro-union organization, and later, revelations about her husband's unpaid taxes."

Ms. Solis is a union proponent as described by John Phillips of The Word on Employment Law in his post Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor Nominee — Say, “Union Yes”.  At her confirmation hearing, Secretary Solis avoided being drawn into a fight over matters such as the Employee Free Choice Act a/k/a the 'card check' bill, which she co-sponsored in the House. She received campaign contributions from several unions in her 2006 bid for Congress.  The new Secretary of Labor's Biography appears on the Department of Labor website.

Human Resources Legal Compliance Checklist for 2009

Human Resource Professionals face a demanding legal compliance year in 2009. The following five items should be added to your "To Do" list for the first quarter of '09:

ADA Amendments Act Compliance (effective 1/1/2009):  The amendments greatly expand the definition of disability refocusing compliance on determining whether the employee is "qualified" and evaluating reasonable accommodations. Employers should consider the following:

  • Revising job descriptions to define essential job functions and minimum qualifications.
  • Formalizing the interactive process for assessing disability issues.
  • Educating supervisors on the expanded ADA coverage.

E-Verify Registration and Immigration Compliance (effective 1/15/2009):  Government contractors and subcontracts may need to register for and use the E-Verify System for new and existing government contracts. Employers who may be covered should inventory their existing contracts and review prospective contracts and subcontracts to determine whether they are covered by the regulations.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has amended regulations governing the types of acceptable identity and employment authorization documents that employees may present to their employers for completion of the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. Under the interim rule, employers will no longer be able to accept expired documents to verify employment authorization on the Form I-9. There are other changes to the types of acceptable documents. Employers must use the revised Form I-9 (not yet issued) for all new hires and to re-verify any employee with expiring employment authorization beginning January 31, 2009. The current version of the Form I-9 will no longer be valid as of February 2, 2009.


FMLA Regulations Implementation (effective 1/16/2009):  Amendments to the FMLA's regulations require action by employers in the following areas:

EFCA and RESPECT Act Planning:  This pending legislation has enormous potential consequences for employers. Developing an action plan should include the following items:

Wage & Hour Self-Audit:  As evidenced by Wal-Marts recent record settlement, wage and hour lawsuits will play prominently in 2009. A self-audit of compliance practices can mitigate these claims particularly in the following areas;

  • Employee classification (exempt vs. non-exempt)
  • Off the clock work (starting times, breaks and meal periods)
  • Donning and Doffing
  • Child labor

Why not Educate Employees on the Significance of Union Authorization Cards?

There is an elephant in the room.  Should we talk about it or ignore it and hope it goes away?

Many employers utilize this approach when the rumblings of a union organizing campaign are heard. When EFCA becomes law, by the time the rumblings are heard, it may be too late to educate your workforce on the significance of signing a union authorization card. Employees may have already signed a card based on the promises by a union business agent.


An authorization card is a very innocuous looking form. It resembles a magazine subscription renewal, but it is a legal power of attorney that authorizes a union to act as the collective bargaining agent for the employee in negotiations with the employer. It also provides the union with data about the employee including his or her home address and telephone number so the union representatives can contact the employee or pay them a visit at home. The card typically asks for information about salary, department and type of work the employee performs. The NLRB and courts have compared secret ballot elections to "card checks" and noted there problems:

"Card checks are less reliable because they lack secrecy and procedural safeguards… union card-solicitation campaigns have been accompanied by misinformation… workers sometimes sign union authorization cards…to get the person off their back.”

There is no special mechanism in EFCA for employers to challenge the validity of the cards presented to show the union's majority status. Traditionally, card challenges are unsuccessful unless an employer can show serious misconduct or intimidation.


Employees need to know the company's position on unionization, including at least the following about signing union authorization cards:


  • Employees have a right under the NLRA not to sign a card, not to support a union and to oppose unionization.
  • After EFCA, signing a card can result in the unionization of the company without an election.
  • Once an employee signs a card, he or she may not be able to get it back.
  • Signing a card gives a union personal information that may be used to contact the employee later.

Employee Engagement Surveys may be Critical to Combating Union Organizing Efforts

The Employee Free Choice Act stands to shortcut the process for certifying a union depriving an employer of its chance to conduct a campaign to educate its workforce on the downside of unionization, squelch union promises, and redress employee perceptions. The employer’s campaign occurs between the filing of a union petition and the schedule NLRB-supervised secret ballot election - a period of 30 to 45 days.

Elimination of the secret ballot and allowing union certification upon a card showing of greater that 50% will force employers to conduct employee education and assess vulnerabilities in advance of union organizing actions. Some businesses mistakenly believe that employee interest in unions revolves around promises of higher pay and better benefits. Quite to the contrary, most studies on employee motivation for union membership conclude that non-economic concerns are the chief motivators for union membership. Most workers think that unions can get them "a greater say in the workplace." The attitude translates to issues like job security, effectiveness of supervisors, and involvement in workplace decisions. Unionization is not all about the money; it is about workers being "engaged." Disengagement can mean unionization.

Employee Surveys are one of the better ways to conduct systematic and regular assessment of employee attitudes about a whole host of important workplace matters.   Business may be skeptical about the benefits of Employee Surveys and what they can find out about a workplace. Today's Employee Survey are customized to the employer. They can assess an employee's attitudes on various subjects and correlate data by department. business location, etc. Often the survey can identify an issue or supervisory relationship that needs management attention. Survey results can also be benchmarked with comparable businesses.

Designing an effective survey requires collaboration with an expert to tailor the survey to the business and assistance in interpreting the survey data. Success Performance Solutions designs, conducts and evaluates employee surveys for companies in a wide variety of industries. I asked Dr. Ira S. Wolfe, for his thoughts on the EFCA and employee surveys. His comments are as follows:


At this point it is important to differentiate between employee satisfaction surveys and engagement surveys. The terms “employee engagement” and “employee satisfaction” means different things to different people. In its simplest form, satisfaction means employers are not doing anything to anger employees. That’s good information to know but not nearly enough to retain employees, no less head off any attempt to unionize employees.

Employee engagement, on the other hand, is a complex equation that reflects each individual’s unique, personal relationship with work. BlessingWhite, in its 2008 State of Employee Engagement study, describes the engaged employee as not just committed, not just passionate or proud, but having a line-of-sight on their own future AND on the organization’s mission and goals. “They are ‘enthused’ and ‘in gear’ using their talents and discretionary effort to make a difference in their employer’s quest for sustainable business success (The State of Employee Engagement 2008, p.1).

Unfortunately for North American employees, fewer than 1 in 3 employees (29%) are fully engaged. Nineteen percent are actually disengaged. Many managers think “yea, yea, yea. What’s the big deal?”

Continue Reading...

Nuts and Bolts of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and RESPECT

Basic Provisions: EFCA amends the NLRA to change the procedures for union certification and first contract negotiation. The primary components of the act are as follows:

  • Allows NLRB certification of a relevant bargaining unit upon authorization card showing from 50% plus one of employees bypassing the NLRB-supervised secret ballot election.
  • Mandates initial collective bargaining contract be negotiated within 120 days of union certification. If no contract is reached, the first contract is produced by an arbitrator through an interest arbitration process. The first contract covers employees for 2 years.
  • Imposes sanctions on employers who engage in unfair labor practices during a union representation drive including $20,000 per violation and double back pay awards for discharged employees.

The RESPECT Act changes the definition of supervisor under the NRLA to allow working supervisors to become union members. Working supervisors are those who don't spend a majority of there time in strictly management activities. Working Supervisors have there current status as supervisors as a result of assigning or directing the work of others.


Employment Implications: EFCA is a monumental change to the NLRA which eliminates the employer's campaign to rebut a union organizing drive following the filing of a petition with the NLRB. Authorization cards are an unreliable mechanism for determining employee union interest. Interestingly, there are no changes to the decertification process in EFCA. To get rid of a union, employees must file a petition with the NRLB and go through the traditional secret ballot election process.


Much has been made of the abrogation of the secret ballot election, but equally dramatic are the limitations placed on collective bargaining and contract determination by an arbitrator if no agreement is reached in 120 days of negotiations.  Reliance on arbitrators to craft a contract where none has existed before is ridiculous. The arbitrator will likely be unfamiliar with the business and the result will likely be a cookie cutter agreement that ignores important operational issues.


If enacted, EFCA will result in unprecedented organizing activity with employers losing their ability to demand a secret ballot election and engage in hard bargaining over a first contract. With the RESPECT Act, working supervisors will gain the right to organize and employers will lose one of their primary avenues to influence employees and obtain information.


Obama Administration Views: The Obama Administration's transition website ( states that the Administration will "fight for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act" and supports the passage of the RESPECT Act.

Will Your Employees be some of the 5 million Workers Unions expect to add to their Membership under the Employee Free Choice Act?

Change is coming to Washington and to America's workplaces. President Elect Obama launched a new website where he explains his labor agenda which included passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. The Obama Administration's transition views are summarized at the Connecticut Employment Law Blog.
Unions are on board too. After their push for Obama, Unions seek new rules for organizing workforces through the EFCA, as observed by Steve Greenhouse of the NYTimes:

With union membership sliding to 7.5 percent of the private-sector work force, one-third the rate in 1983, unions see enactment of the bill as the single most important step toward reversing their loss of membership and power. Some labor leaders predict that if the bill is passed, unions, which have 16 million members nationwide, would add at least five million workers to their rolls over the next few years.

The impact of the EFCA will be monumental so we will be dedicating a lot of blog time to this topic. Look for future posts in the following areas:

  • Nuts and Bolts of EFCA: examines the specifics of the proposed legislation.
  • Employer's Guide to Authorization Cards: looks in detail at authorization cards, their legal significance and how they are solicited by unions.
  • Identifying and Training Supervisors to Maintain your Union-Free Status: outlines the role of supervisors in disseminating the employer's message including the impact of the RESPECT Act.
  • Employee Engagement Surveys as a Tool to Combat Union Organizing: keeping your finger on the pulse of employee.
  • Becoming Politically Active in Response to EFCA: making your business's voice heard in Washington and particularly by the one Republican Senator, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who has co-sponsored the EFCA.
  • How to Avoid Unfair Labor Practices when you are an Organizing Target: negotiating the legal landscape of traditional labor law.


Employer's Strategic Planning for an Obama Administration

President-Elect Obama told his hometown crowd that "Change has come to America." Through his election speeches, website and co-sponsorship of Senate Bills there is a road map of what changes will likely be coming to the American workplace.

Employers would be well served by examining the impact of likely legislation on their business and planning accordingly. The most significant changes will likely come from the Employee Free Choice Act  and RESPECT ACT which will reshape union organizing. The building trades, healthcare, and manufacturing will be the first to feel the effects, but so will business that were not traditionally union targets like financial services.  The balance of Senator Obama's legislative agenda involves expanding existing areas of employment protection through the Paycheck Fairness Act, Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Prior posts have summarized the content of these bills and their impact on the workplace. In the coming weeks, we will provide more extensive guidance on planning to meet the changes posed by these and other legislative initiatives.

Related Posts:
Employer's Guide to the Election
Obama Victory may give rise to Unprecedented Unionization of the American Workplace

Bosses do not Deserve RESPECT

Obama Victory may give rise to Unprecedented Unionization of the American Workplace

Union membership and the public perception of the role of labor unions are relatively unchanged in recent years. Union membership was up only slightly in 2007 based on a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Department of Labor, which published the following statistics on union membership:

     Percentage of unionized workforce
     Total - 12.5%
     Public sector - 36.5%

     Private sector - 7.8%

Public perceptions of unions is also remained constant. An annually conducted Gallop Poll shows a relatively constant union approval rating hovering around 60%, with only 22% of those polled feeling that unions would be “stronger” in the future.

The 2008 Election may dramatically change the landscape of U.S. labor relations with a reinvigoration of organized labor. The following influence could align to compel unprecedented unionization:

  • Payback to Union Supporters: Democratic candidates received substantial support from organized labor both financially and in getting out the vote. This support will garner political power, which will likely translate into a pro-union legislative agenda.
  • Uncontested Legislative Agenda: Senator Obama is the cosponsor of the EFCA and RESPECT Act both of which are strongly supported by unions. A Democratic majority in the House and Senate will pave the way for an uncontested legislative agenda that will likely include these laws. Republicans could be unable to slow the process down using a “filibuster” if the Democrats secure a 60-seat majority in the Senate to invoke cloture on floor debates.
  • Economic Woes: The economy downturn will continue to hurt businesses making necessary reductions in force, smaller paychecks and other cuts in benefits. The promises of job security and better wages are typical union themes. Nervous workers may turn to unions for help.  Traditionally, unions were forced to the bargaining table where strikes were their primary weapon to put economic pressure on an employer. The historic economic balance between unions and employers will be upset by passage of the EFCA, which mandates arbitrator-crafted contracts within 120 days after initial union recognition.
  • Unprepared Employers: Passage or the RESPECT Act and the EFCA would be a one-two punch for which many employers will be grossly unprepared. RESPECT would make many working supervisors eligible to unionize and to assist a union in collecting cards and other organizing activities. Employers would be unable to use these working supervisors as advocates for their union-free message or to collect intelligence on organizing activities. The EFCA would eliminate the secret ballot and mandate first contracts through arbitration.


Employer's Guide to the Election

The election rhetoric has been relatively quiet on employment-related topics, except for the brief mention in the last debate. Candidate Obama has a clear agenda employment legislation based on his co-sponsorship of various bills and other media comments. Candidate McCain’s position is less clear. Detailed below is a summary of the key legislative initiatives considered by Congress in 2008, all of which have passed the House of Representatives except the RESPECT Act.

Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800 and S. 1041)

Summary:  The EFCA amends the NLRA to change the procedures for union certification and first contract negotiation. The primary components of the act are as follows:

  • Allows NLRB certification of a relevant bargaining unit upon authorization card showing from 50% plus one of employees bypassing secret ballot election.
  • Mandates initial collective bargaining contract be negotiated within 120 days or first contract is produced by an arbitrator covering employees for 2 years.
  • Provides new fines for employer unfair labor practices.

Impact:   EFCA is a monumental change to the NLRA. Much has been made of the abrogation of the secret ballot election, but equally dramatic are the limitations placed on collective bargaining and contract determination by an arbitrator if no agreement is reached in 120 days of negotiations.   If enacted, EFCA will result in unprecedented organizing activity with employers losing their ability to demand an election and engage in hard bargaining over a first contract.

Candidate Positions:  H.R. 800 passed the House but did not receive enough votes for consideration by the Senate. Candidate Obama is a co-sponsor of the Senate Bill and supports its passage. Candidate McCain opposes the Senate Bill.

Prior Posts:  NOW is the Time for Employers to Gear up for the Employee Free Choice Act (Unions Are)


Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 3685/ no Senate Bill)

Summary:  ENDA adds sexual orientation to the protected classes under Title VII for all employers except religious organizations. It allows reasonable access to adequate facilities that are not inconsistent with the employee’s identified gender, but does not require domestic partner benefits or protect “gender identity”.

Impact:  ENDA adds a protected class to employment discrimination protections allowing compensatory and punitive damage claims against employers.     

Candidate Positions:  H.R. 3685 passed the House but did not receive enough votes for consideration by the Senate.  No legislative position by either candidate.   Candidate Obama’s website expresses support for the legislation.


Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (H.R. 2831/ S. 1843)

Summary:  FPA overturns the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. effectively eliminating the 180 or 300-day statute of limitations for filing a wage-related discrimination claim. The bill allows family members and others affected by discrimination to file claims and reinstitutes the Paycheck Rule for determining when a claim accrues. It also allows claims based on paychecks and annuity payments which would allow retirees to bring claims.

Impact:  FPA virtually eliminates the statute of limitations for wage-related claims.

Candidate Positions:  H.R. 2831 passed the House but did not receive enough votes for consideration by the Senate.  Candidate Obama is a cosponsor of the Bill. Candidate McCain has expressed no opinion on the Bill.


Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 1338/ S. 766)

Summary:  PFA changes the burden of proof in gender based pay claims requiring the employer to affirmatively demonstrate that any pay differential is not based on sex. Employers who cannot meet this burden face unlimited compensatory and punitive damages. The EEOC would be required to collect employer payroll information based on sex, race, and national origin thereby targeting its enforcement activities. The Bill also changed rules on class actions automatically including employees in such claims unless they specifically opt out.

Impact:  PFA subjects employers to wage related class actions with unlimited damages and makes it easier for employees to prove such claims.

Candidate Positions:  H.R. 1338 passed the House but did not receive enough votes for consideration by the Senate.  Candidate Obama is a cosponsor of the Bill. Candidate McCain has not taken any position on the Bill.


RESPECT ACT (H.R. 1644/ S. 969)

Summary:  The so-called Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Tradesworkers (RESPECT) Act would change the NLRA definition of “supervisor” to exclude “working supervisors” who do not spend a majority of their worktime in strictly managerial duties excluding the tradition duties of assigning work and directing the activities of others.

Impact:  Respect would allow many working or front line supervisors to join a union dividing their loyalties to the company, as they would be permitted to assist in the unionization of the company.

Candidate Positions:  Candidate Obama is a cosponsor of the bill and Candidate McCain has taken no position on the Bill.

Prior Posts: Bosses do not Deserve RESPECT


If there is a Democratically-controlled House, Senate, and President, it is likely that some or all of the above legislation will be enacted in 2009. Others have commented on the HR landscape following the election:

What The Future of HR Looks Like in 2009

Small business owner’s guide to the election

Bosses do not Deserve RESPECT

October 16th is the annual celebration of Boss’s Day, which has traditionally been the day for employees to “thank their boss for being kind and fair throughout the year”. In most workplaces, it is clear who is a boss and who is not. The boss is the one who tells you what to do, completes your performance review and hassles you when you do not follow company policy.

The term “boss” generally means “supervisor”. For us in the legal-compliance world, knowing who is a supervisor and who is not is very important. Supervisors are not paid minimum wage and overtime; cannot be members of a union; and make the company liable for their actions like sexual harassment. Organized Labor has pushed the NLRB to narrowly define supervisor, but the Supreme Court rejected previous definitions as inconsistent with the text of the NLRA. In Oakwood Healthcare Inc, the NLRB modified the definitions of "assign," "responsibly direct," and "independent judgment" (all used to determine a supervisor) to conform to the Supreme Court rulings in NLRB v. Kentucky River Comty. Care, Inc. and NLRB v. HCR.

The RESPECT Act would make three major changes to the current definition. It would eliminate the two most common supervisory duties- the authority "to assign" other employees, and the authority to "responsibly to direct" other employees. In addition, the RESPECT Act would require that the "majority of a supervisor's work time" be spent engaging in the remaining duties outlined in the NLRA definition below.

The new definition of “supervisor” under Section 2(11) of the NLRA would read as follows:

Any individual having authority, in the interest of the employer, and for a majority of the individual’s worktime, to hire, transfer, suspend, lay-off, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward, or discipline other employees, or responsibly to direct them,or to adjust their grievances or effectively to recommend such action, if in connection with the foregoing the exercise of such authority is not of a merely routine or clerical nature, but requires the use of independent judgment.


Changing the definition of “supervisor” would significantly affect many workplaces by:

  • Create divided loyalties among front-line supervisors who assign work to employees. Under the RESPECT Act, such supervisors would be covered by the NLRA and could then form, join or assist labor organizations; be eligible to vote in NLRB supervised elections; solicit signatures for union authorization cards from "co-workers;" or picket, go on strike or engage in other work stoppages that would be inconsistent with a supervisor's duty.
  • Fundamentally tip the balance between the dual functions of the national labor policy: (1) to protect the rights of rank-and-file employees in exercising their rights to form, join or assist a union without managerial or supervisory interference, while at the same time (2) ensuring supervisors act as agents in the interests of their employers in matters of labor-management relations.
  • To the extent that the NLRA definition is changed, there may also be changes to the FLSA’s definition, triggering litigation involving individuals currently classified, as "supervisors" but who may not meet a new definition.

Organized Labor’s legislative wish list includes the Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Trades workers ("RESPECT") Act, along with similarly misnamed Employee Free Choice Act.   Candidate Obama supports both acts; while Candidate McCain opposes them. The addition of supervisors to the ranks of potential union members and the ease of organizing workforces without a secret ballot election would dramatically change the balance of labor management relations. It would also greatly increase the dues collected by unions from organized employees.

Why Union Organizers come Knocking on an Employee's Door and Why the Employee Free Choice Act will increase those "House Calls"

One big frustration for union organizers is access to employees for the purpose of soliciting union authorization cards and peddling the union message. Sophisticated employers have no solicitation policies, which force union organizers out of the workplace and into the parking lots and homes of employees.

The primary barrier to union home visits is determining where employees live. Until a union files a petition for election, an employer isn’t obligated to hand over employee names and address. To file a petition for election under the current law, a union must obtain signed authorization cards from 30% of the employees in an appropriate unit. Home visits are a very effective way of putting pressure on employees to sign cards, because most people view the visit as an intrusion and just want the “visitor” to leave. Therefore, they sign the card without much thought to its significance.

Unions use a variety of methods to get employee addresses such as company directories and just asking employees. Unions will go to great lengths to obtain employee addresses even employing a controversial method called “tagging.” Tagging involves Union members writing down the license plate number of employee vehicles in an employer’s parking lot and running the license plates to obtain the name and address of the person who owns the vehicle. Addresses are then used for home visits. The practice of tagging was recently struck down, in Pichler, et al. v. UNITE, decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. 

The Employee Free Choice Act will fundamentally alter the role of authorization cards and increase the importance of house calls. Under the EFCA, a union can be recognized as the bargaining representative for a company’s employees if it obtains signed authorization cards from more than 50% of the employees in an appropriate unit. Pressuring employees at home will likely become even more frequently employed tactic.

One Less Tactic In Organized Labor's Arsenal: Third Circuit says No To "Tagging"

In Pichler, et al. v. UNITE, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has weighed in on the controversial union organizing tactic known as "tagging." In its effort to organize employees of Cintas Corporation, the largest domestic employer in the industrial laundry industry, UNITE (Union of Needletrades, Industrial & Textile Employees) engaged in "house calls," i.e., knocking on doors at the homes of Cintas' employees in an effort to convince them to support the Union. In order to locate the home addresses of these employees, the Union would record the license plate numbers of cars found in Cintas' parking lots to access information contained in state motor vehicle records relating to those license plates. This process was known as "tagging."

Unfortunately for the Union, a group of Cintas employees, objecting to what they perceived to be a violation of their privacy rights, sued the Union under the Driver's Privacy Protection Act. That federal statute provides that a "person who knowingly obtains, discloses or uses personal information, from a motor vehicle record, for a purpose not permitted under this chapter shall be liable to the individual to whom the information pertains, who may bring a civil action …" While the statute enumerates 14 exceptions to the general prohibition, the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's conclusion that union organizing was not listed among the 14 "permissible uses." 

The Court's majority rejected the Union's assertion that there were two exceptions which made its tagging permissible: the "litigation" exception and the "acting on behalf of the government" exception. The Court's majority reasoned that it did not matter whether the Union may have used the confidential information for either of these permissible purposes because it clearly admitted using the information for an impermissible purpose, union organizing. It was on this point that Judge Sloviter dissented. She asserted that summary judgment should not have been granted, so that a jury could determine whether the Union's "primary purpose" in obtaining and using the confidential information was to monitor potential legal violations by Cintas, a permissible use under the statute.

The Court also reversed the lower court's finding on punitive damages, holding that the plaintiff employees were entitled to a jury trial on their punitive damages claim. However, the most substantial impact of the Third Circuit's decision may be in its clear message to union organizers: tag at your own risk. And employers may be heartened to know that if, as many expect, the Employee Free Choice Act is soon enacted, unions will be far less likely to use tagging in their quest to obtain those valuable authorization cards.


NOW is the Time for Employers to Gear up for the Employee Free Choice Act (Unions Are)

Sometimes a wait and see approach is the right call when it comes to proposed legislation, but not for nonunion employers facing the possible passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). EFCA will radically change the way unions organize employers by eliminating the “campaign” phase and secret ballot election that have been the hallmark of industrial relations since the inception of the NLRA in 1935.

Under EFCA, a union can organize an employer based simply on a majority card showing. The following actions will place an employer in much better position should EFCA become law:

  • Educate your managers and supervisors now, not only on the card-signing process itself, but more broadly as to why unionization may be anachronistic in the 21st Century workplace.
  • Audit your current HR practices and make improvements before the union is on the scene (as it may be an unfair labor practice to do so after the union begins contacting your employees).
  • Make sure your employees have a recognized channel for bringing their concerns to management, a way they can "let off steam." (If not, your claim later that they don't need a union to represent them may fall on deaf ears.)
  • Make sure your supervisors are consistently administering disciplinary policies in a non-discriminatory equitable fashion.
  • Train your managers and supervisors on what they can and cannot say during an organizing campaign, and maybe more importantly, what they should be saying if the union shows up.
  • Review your policies on solicitation, distribution of literature, bulletin board postings, and employee use of e-mail, while necessary changes can still be made. Again, if you wait until the union is on the scene to tweak, you will be committing an unfair labor practice.
  • Review your wage and benefit structures. If you're not competitive in your industry or geographical area, the union will seek to exploit this in suggesting to your employees they need union representation.

Most experts believe EFCA is likely to be enacted in 2009.  Presidential candidate John McCain opposes EFCA and submitted a statement to the Congressional Record on June 26, 2007 in which he stated as follows:

I am strongly opposed to H.R. 800, the so-called “Employee Free Choice Act of 2007.” Not only is the bill’s title deceptive, the enactment of such an ill-conceived legislative measure would be a gross deception to the hard working Americans who would fall victim to it.

Barak Obama has repeatedly advocated its passage and has the following position statement on his website:

The current process for organizing a workplace denies too many workers the ability to exercise their right to do so. The Employee Free Choice Act will allow workers to form a union through majority sign up and card checks, and strengthen penalties for those employers who are in violation. The choice to organize should be left up to workers and workers alone. It should be their free choice.

Organized labor will be pushing hard for EFCA, and if there is a Democratic Administration and Congress, passage of EFCA would be a virtual certainty. As noted by Kris Dunn this is The Hidden Career Killer for HR Pros unless you act now.

Energy Expenses And Gas Prices Motivate Employers To Move To Four Day Workweek: What Are The Legal Issues?

Companies face increased energy cost as the nation’s average gasoline price reached $4.00 per gallon this week spurring a new round of cost cutting measures. Even in prior years, some employers have allowed employees to work alternate workweek schedules, such as four 10 hour days, for summer months. When this schedule is feasible from a production and service perspective, the benefits typically can be two-fold: reduced operational costs for the employer and longer weekends for employees.

As featured recently on the TODAY SHOW, many employers are considering changes to their workweeks as a means of cutting employee commuting expenses and reducing business operational costs. Changes in workweeks can raise legal issues for employers as follows:

  • Overtime. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act, non-exempt employees must be paid for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek. Nevertheless, employers in some industries may have a practice of paying 'daily overtime' for work in excess of 8 hours per day. This must be considered in assessing the value of any alternative workweek.  
  • Child Labor Limitations. State laws limit the number of hours that children may work in a day and week depending on the age of the child. Pennsylvania limits the hours of work in a day for children under the age of 18 who are covered by its child labor laws.
  • Unemployment Compensation. Employees who quit because of a change in their hours or schedule generally are not eligible for unemployment compensation. A change from a day day workweek to a four day work week, without any loss of hours, is not likely to be viewed as a 'substantial change' that might provide necessitous and compelling reason for someone to quit their employment and receive benefits. 
  • Collective Bargaining.  Absent a clear provisions in a CBA delegating such discretion to the employer, a change in the hours of work would be a mandatory subject of bargaining. As such, most unionized employers would be required to obtain the Union's assent prior to adopting a "four-10's" type work week. This may also require addressing and resolving contractual issues involving shift differentials, premium pay and daily overtime in the context of a side letter agreement.

We previously discussed telework as a strategy for addressing similar employee relations issues in our post "Legal Issues in Telecommuting:  Gas Prices make Businesses Reconsider Policies."

On-Line Postings And Your Corporate Image: Can You Terminate Employees For Personal Postings?!?

Freedom of Speech is a right granted by The United States Constitution and enjoyed by all Americans. Employees exercising their free speech rights by blogging, posting on MySpace and YouTube may be surprised to learn limits of their Constitutional protections and should acquaint themselves with the term “dooced”.

Generally, employees of private sector employers have no constitutional “free speech” rights in the workplace and beyond.  A quick civics’ lesson reveals that the Bill of Rights creates limits on the government’s actions to curb constitutional rights but does not typically restrain private employers from restricting an employee's speech and expression.

Employees should pause before reporting to work wrapped solely in a flag, speaking their mind or blogging about the cruelties of their employer. Freedom of speech may only go as far as an employer’s tolerance for commentaryPennsylvania courts have rejected wrongful discharge claims based on First Amendment protections asserted by employees who were terminated for criticisms of their employers. Geary v. U.S. Steel Corp., 456 Pa. 171, 319 A.2d 174 (1974) and Wagner v. General Elec. Co., 760 F.Supp. 1146 (E.D. Pa. 1991).

Every employee owes the employer a duty of loyalty. The duty of loyalty owed by an employee to his or her employer is fairly broad and may encompass: "harmful speech, insubordination, neglect, disparagement, disruption of employer-employee relations, dishonor to the business name, product, reputation or operation, or nondisclosure of important information to the employer." Lee, Konrad, Anti-Employer Blogging: Employee Breach of the Duty of Loyalty and the Procedure for Allowing Discovery of Blogger's Identity Before Service of Process is Effected.

Employee comments need not be made at work. Employees have been fired for blogging and posting on MySpace. In one of the more infamous cases Ellen Simonetti, a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines, was fired in 2004 because of her "Queen of the Sky" blog content. Simonetti posted provocative pictures of herself in a Delta uniform on a Delta airplane.

The airline, concerned for its image, found her inappropriate actions to be grounds for her termination. While the case remains unsettled due to an administrative discharge under bankruptcy laws, Simonetti has gone on to publish a book and is reportedly trying to seal a movie deal—all based on her termination from employment for her blog. 

An employer’s power to terminate an employee for expressions of opinion is not absolute. Notable exceptions exist for “union activity”, anti-retaliation provisions of discrimination laws, and Sarbanes-Oxley Act compliance.  An excellent discussion of the law in these areas appears in a New York Law Journal article by Jeffery S. Klein and Nicholas J. Pappas entitled When Private Sector Employer Fires Worker for Blogging.

Many employers have chosen to adopt policies on employee communications for a whole range of purposes. Policies can be helpful in defining an employee’s actions in the following areas:

  • Authority to comment to news media on official matters
  • Authority to communicate with or about customers and vendors
  • Use of work time
  • Use of employer’s computer and other resources
  • Disclosure of confidential or proprietary information
  • Prohibition on content of communication that is disloyal, discriminatory, inflammatory, threatening, or disparaging of the company, its employees, customers, products, etc.
Since many corporations have blogs, they have also developed blogging policies and guidelines. IBM’s Blogging Policy is an example of one employer’s approach.

Managing Workplace Romance requires more than a "Love Contract"

Kris Dunn at the HR Capitalist has a post on The "Love Broker" - Making Your Employees Sign A Workplace Relationship Prenup... Are such contracts really necessary and do they offer any legal protection? 

While taboos on workplace romance may have eased, legal and morale problems persist.   Office surveys show that 40% of workers admitted they have dated a co-worker. However, the same survey states that 84% of businesses do not have policies on workplace romance. David Javitch notes in his post on Dealing with an Office Romance, that there may be even bigger workplace risks for morale problems created by perceived favoritism and the looming sexual harassment claim. Courts can hold an employer liable for the sexual favoritism created by a supervisor's romantic involvement with a subordinate. Sexual harassment claims remain high with the EEOC reporting over 12,500 claims filed in 2007 resulting in EEOC settlements totaling almost $50 million. Million Dollar verdicts are common.

Love Contracts”  are usually called Consensual Relationship Agreements by the lawyers who draft them.  Agreements are typically used when a supervisor is dating a subordinate but can also apply to co-workers.  The agreements attempt to provide the employer with a defense to a a sexual harassment claim by documenting that the relationship is consensual (not unwelcome).  Employees view them as intrusive and HR managers loath monitoring the workplace rumor mill to determine if a contract is necessary.

Love Contracts have limited utility absent a broader policy and training approach. Employers should consider the following in addressing workplace romances:

Implement a Strong Policy against Sexual and other Harassment

The EEOC has issued extensive guidance on sexual harassment policies and their ability to reduce an employer's liability for harassment.   One of the most critical components of such a policy is an effective complaint procedure to redress claims of harassment. The risk of sexual harassment claims skyrockets when supervisors fish off the company dock.   Sexual harassment by a supervisor means automatic liability for a company, if it culminates in a tangible employment action like termination or discipline.

Develop a Policy on Office Romance without calling it "Fraternization"

The D.C. Court of Appeals in Guardsmark v. NLRB overruled an employer's no fraternization rule because it violated the rights of employees to engage in concerted activities. The court examined an employer’s policy that stated employees must not “fraternize on duty or off duty, date or become overly friendly with client’s employees or with co-employees.”  The court ruled that the generic term “fraternize” was overly broad because employees might infer that it prohibited both romantic relationships (which the employer could reasonably regulate) and fraternal relationships involving the discussion of terms and conditions of employment (that are protected by section 7).

Train Supervisors

Supervisory training on sexual harassment can demonstrate a company's good faith attempts to comply with the law. Such training should explain the types of conduct that violate the employer's anti-harassment policy; the seriousness of the policy; the responsibilities of supervisors and managers when they learn of alleged harassment; and the prohibition against retaliation.

Proactively Evaluate and Confront Situations

Most employers are content to sit passively and watch an office romance unfold. Many will not act unless it "becomes a disruption". Consider some proactive steps. If the romance is between co-workers, make sure they understand that it cannot affect productivity. If it is between a supervisor and subordinate, evaluate whether there should be changes in the reporting structure. Do not automatically transfer or reassign the female in the relationship or you will risk a discrimination claim.

Sex may Sell, but Gender-based Employment Decisions are Unlawful Discrimination

The EEOC announced a $1 million settlement for sex discrimination against men arising from a restaurant’s preference for hiring and promoting only women into bartending positions. The lawsuit highlights the tension between a business’s marketing efforts and legal compliance. What marketers may pander to in the name of “customer preference,” employment laws prohibit as discrimination.

Businesses spend millions of dollars to find out what motivates customers to buy by evaluating their preferences. Demographics play an important role in tying the right product to the right market. Also critical is having the “right” salesperson to make the pitch.

A business’s natural, but unlawful reaction may be to make staffing decisions based upon appealing to a target demographic group.  The “customer preferences” for the right salesperson cannot create employer hiring or promotion criteria for someone of a particular gender, religion, age, etc. Courts have universally rejected this form of customer preference, except in the narrow case where it is a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ). A BFOQ may exist where it is necessary for the purpose of authenticity or genuineness, such as, a model for gender specific clothing. 

In its lawsuit, the EEOC said that Razzoo's, a Cajun food restaurant chain, refused to hire or promote men to the position of bartender. The EEOC had evidence that the restaurant's management set up and communicated to managers by e-mail, a plan for an 80-20 ratio of women to men behind the bar. Male applicants and servers were told that management wanted mostly “girls” behind the bar. Men who worked as servers at the restaurant were generally denied promotion to bartender because of their gender. The few men who were promoted to bartender were not allowed to work lucrative “girls-only” bar­tend­ing events.

The EEOC’s settlement with Razzoo shows a developing trend in the agency of making an employer improve its approach to human resources. In addition to paying $775,000 to be divided among a class of male applicants, male servers, and male bartenders who were discriminated against, Razzoo's was also required to retain the services of a human resources consultant or to develop an in-house human resources department spending no less than $225,000 for these human resources services.   Razzoo's agreed to injunctive relief requiring training on equal employment opportunity for all its employees, the posting of an anti-discrimination notice, and EEOC monitoring of employee complaints of discrimination.

Suzanne M. Anderson, EEOC supervisory trial attorney and lead counsel on the lawsuit, summed up the EEOC’s position by saying that, "Some may think that sex sells drinks, but gender ratios are illegal… Razzoo's decision to hire and promote by gender is a clear violation of federal law. A hiring ratio is illegal whether it is 80-20 whites to blacks or 80-20 women to men."   It will be interesting to see how far the law will go in policing an employer’s efforts to appease a customer preference. For example, would an OBGYN practice be subject to an EEOC lawsuit if it specifically hired a female doctor based on the preference of its patients?

NLRB Limits Right to Use Company E-Mail for Union Organizing

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) issued an important decision concerning employee usage of company e-mail systems for purposes of union solicitation. In The Guard Publishing Company d/b/a The Register-Guard, 351 NLRB No. 70 (2007), the Board narrowly held, by a 3-2 majority, that the Company did not commit an unfair labor practice by maintaining a policy that prohibited the use of e-mail for all “non-job-related solicitations.” The Board held that employees have no statutory right to use their employer’s e-mail system for Section 7 purposes (such as union organizing or engaging in other protected concerted activities). Additionally, the Board modified its approach regarding discriminatory enforcement of employer policies related to solicitation, postings on employee bulletin boards, and other forms of employee communications.

This case raises implications for every employer who either (1) has a union and is concerned about union or employee usage of e-mail or (2) is non-union and wishes to utilize its no solicitation and employee communication policies to help lawfully limit outside solicitations. If a non-union employer waits until union activity actually emerges and then revises its policies, those revisions may be deemed by the NLRB to be unlawfully motivated. Changes to a company’s employee communications policies, particularly no solicitation policies, should be carefully reviewed for legal compliance. 

The Guard is a unionized newspaper publisher. The Company’s employee communications systems policy (CSP) stated as follows:

Company communication systems and the equipment used to operate the communication system are owned and provided by the Company to assist in conducting the business of The Register-Guard. Communications systems are not to be used to solicit or proselytize for commercial ventures, religious or political causes, outside organizations, or other non-job-related solicitations.

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