National Labor Relations Board

Equal pay for equal work has been required for many years, but, as of late, this rather static requirement has become the focal point of regulators, state and local governments, and activists. In order to achieve equality in compensation, the efforts are becoming increasingly creative with new pushes for transparency, privacy, and/or disclosures. Financial services firms are often the target and should not only be aware of these innovative measures and requirements but also consider what proactive actions to put in place.

Eliminating Pay Secrecy

The National Labor Relations Board made it clear years ago that “employees” (as defined under the National Labor Relations Act) could not be restricted from discussing the terms and conditions, including compensation, of their employment, based on their rights to engage in “concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” Yet, many employers continue to have policies or agreements, or informal rules, which restrict employees from doing so. Recently, there has been a concentrated effort to prevent employers from designating employee compensation as “confidential” and/or restricting discussion of it. For example, in connection with the former administration’s determination to eradicate equal pay impediments in the workplace, in a 2014 executive order, then-President Barack Obama prohibited federal contractors from retaliating against employees who talk about their salaries or other compensation information.

A number of states and localities that have been passing their own equal pay laws have been addressing pay secrecy as well. Such states include the following:

  • California: The California Fair Pay Act, which became effective as of January 1, 2016, takes pay secrecy head on. It not only restricts policies that prevent employees from discussing their own compensation but also prevents them from prohibiting an employee from disclosing the employee’s own wages, discussing the wages of others, inquiring about another employee’s wages, or aiding or encouraging any other employee to exercise his or her rights under the law.
  • Connecticut: Connecticut’s Act Concerning Pay Equity and Fairness (“Connecticut Act”) prohibits an employer from (i) barring employees from disclosing or discussing the amount of his or her wages or the wages of another employee of such employer that have been disclosed voluntarily by such other employee, (ii) inquiring about the wages of another employee of such employer, or (iii) requiring employees to sign documents waiving their rights under the Connecticut Act or taking actions against employees. The Connecticut Act does note, however, that it will not be construed to require any employer or employee to disclose the amount of wages paid to any employee.
  • New York: New York State recently enacted the Achieve Pay Equity Act (“APEA”), which modified the existing equal pay law in a number of respects. One particular change bars an employer from prohibiting an employee from “inquiring about, discussing, or disclosing” the employee’s wages or the wages of another employee. However, the APEA specifically provides for limitations. The APEA states that employers may maintain, in a written policy, reasonable workplace and workday limitations on the time, place, and manner for inquiries about, discussion of, or the disclosure of wages. Also, the APEA provides that no employee is required to discuss his or her wages with another employee, and employees who have access to other employees’ wage information as a result of their job duties (e.g., human resources staff) may be limited in the disclosure of such information by their employer.

Prior Compensation: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Another focus of equal pay activists has been on employers’ asking employees for their current pay information to be used in determining their pay rates. Opponents to this practice claim that it perpetuates wage gaps for women that may “follow” women from job to job. Massachusetts is the first state to take the issue head on and prohibit employers from seeking information about applicants’ compensation history in the hiring process. The Massachusetts equal pay law, which becomes effective in 2018, bars employers from asking about an applicant’s salary history on an application or during interviews for employment. Pursuant to the law, after an offer of employment with compensation terms has been negotiated and made, a prospective employer may seek or confirm a prospective employee’s wage or salary history.

Activist Investors Turn Their Sights to Wall Street

In an effort to push for pay equality, activist investors have begun to exert pressure on large financial institutions to disclose compensation information. Such investors have already filed proposals with a number of large financial services institutions, such as Citigroup, Bank of America Corp., and Wells Fargo & Co. The investors are demanding that these institutions publish statistics about the race and gender of employees, as well as compensation information. Last year, activist investors took similar initiatives with respect to large technology firms, the majority of which complied with making public pay gap information and taking steps to close any gaps.

What Employers Should Do Now

In light of this increased focus on pay information, policies, and procedures, employers should do the following:

  • Undertake pay audits to determine any disparities and the genesis of such disparities. Pay audits should be conducted with legal counsel to maintain the information in a privileged manner as much as possible.
  • Thoroughly review their pay-setting policies and procedures. If you are a Massachusetts employer, take specific steps to ensure that pay information is not improperly requested through the hiring process. While most states and localities do not prohibit an employer from asking employees for their pay histories, relying solely on such information for setting starting pay may lead to pay inequities.
  • Determine appropriate compensation ranges based on factors other than pay history—such as market conditions, job requirements, experience, and skills, among other things.
  • When providing raises or determining bonuses, consider and document an employer’s rationale for compensation decisions in order to defend against any claims of inequity based on gender or another improper reason.
  • Consider training managers not to restrict (or appear to restrict) employees from discussing wages in compliance with applicable local laws. Managers may be unfamiliar with the new focus on prohibiting pay secrecy and could be improperly handling such matters.
  • Review their policies and agreements as they relate to sharing pay information to make sure that they are compliant with applicable laws, contain non-retaliation provisions, and direct employees to avenues for complaints.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Take 5 newsletter Five Employment Issues Under the New Administration That Financial Services Employers Should Monitor.”

A new post on the Management Memo blog will be of interest to many of our readers in the financial services industry: “‘A Day Without’ Actions – How Can Employers Prepare?” by our colleagues Steven M. Swirsky and Laura C. Monaco of Epstein Becker Green.

Following is an excerpt:

[T]he same groups that organized the January 21, 2017 Women’s March on Washington – an action participated in by millions of individuals across the county – has called for a “Day Without Women” to be held on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. Organizers are encouraging women to participate by taking the day off from paid and unpaid labor, and by wearing red – which the organizers note “may be a great act of defiance for some uniformed workers.”

Employers should be prepared to address any difficult questions that might arise in connection with the upcoming “Day Without Women” strike: Do I have to give my employees time off to participate in Day Without events? Can I still enforce the company dress code – or do I need to permit employees to wear red? Can I discipline an employee who is “no call, no show” to work that day? Am I required to approve requests for the day off by employees who want to participate? As we explained in our prior blog post, guidance from the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel suggests that an employer can rely on its “lawful and neutrally-applied work rules” to make decisions about granting requests for time off, enforcing its dress code, and disciplining employees for attendance rule violations. An employer’s response, however, to a given employee’s request for time off or for an exception to the dress code, may vary widely based upon the individual facts and circumstances of each case. …

Read the full post here.

The new episode of Employment Law This Week offers a year-end roundup of the biggest employment, workforce, and management issues in 2016:

  • Impact of the Defend Trade Secrets Act
  • States Called to Ban Non-Compete Agreements
  • Paid Sick Leave Laws Expand
  • Transgender Employment Law
  • Uncertainty Over the DOL’s Overtime Rule and Salary Thresholds
  • NLRB Addresses Joint Employment
  • NLRB Rules on Union Organizing

Watch the episode below and read EBG’s Take 5 newsletter, “Top Five Employment, Labor & Workforce Management Issues of 2016.”

Once again seemingly appropriate work rules have been under attack by the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”). In a recent decision (Component Bar Products, Inc. and James R. Stout, Case 14-CA-145064), two members of a three-member NLRB panel upheld an August 7, 2015 decision by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) finding that an employer violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA” or the “Act”) by maintaining overly broad handbook rules and terminating an employee who was engaged in “protected, concerted activity” when he called another employee and warned him that his job was in jeopardy.  Member Miscimarra concurred in part and dissented in part, arguing that the Board should overrule applicable precedent interpreting the Act.

Factual background

The respondent company is engaged in the manufacture and sale of precision machined products for the automotive and other industries from a facility in Missouri. Respondent maintained a personal conduct and disciplinary action policy in its associate handbook that prohibits “insubordination or other disrespectful conduct,” “unauthorized disclosure of business ‘secrets’ or confidential information,” and “boisterous or disruptive activity in the workplace.”  On January 20, 2015, a quality technician called his co-worker from his cell phone during business hours after his Plant Manager made a remark suggesting that the co-worker may not have a job with the company anymore.  The Plant Manager found out about the technician’s phone call when the co-worker called the Respondent to complain that it was management’s job, not an employee’s job, to tell him that he was being fired.  Respondent decided to terminate the technician for “misconduct” for involving himself in another employee’s personal affairs and otherwise engaging in conduct in violation of the handbook.

The ALJ’s Decision

The ALJ first considered whether the Respondent’s maintenance of rules prohibiting “insubordination and other disrespectful conduct” and “boisterous or disruptive activity in the workplace” violates Section 8(a)(1) of the Act because employees reasonably could construe those bans to include protected Section 7 activity. Citing NLRB precedent (Lutheran Heritage Village-Livonia, 343 NLRB 646 (2004)), the ALJ noted that an employer violates Section 8(a)(1) when it maintains a work rule that employees could “reasonably construe” to block or “chill” them from exercising their Section 7 rights.  In this case, the ALJ determined that both rules in the handbook violate Section 8(a)(1) because of their likelihood to chill Section 7 activity.

The ALJ next considered whether the discharge of the technician was proper or whether it violated Section 7 of the Act, which protects employee conduct that is both “concerted” and engaged in “for mutual aid and protection.” Because the Board repeatedly has held that an employee’s warning to another employee that the latter’s job is at risk constitutes protected, concerted activity, the ALJ found that the technician’s conversation with the co-worker constituted protected, concerted activity.  Accordingly, the ALJ found that the technician’s discharge violated Section 8(a)(1) because he was terminated for engaging in such conduct.

Among other things, the ALJ ordered the Respondent to offer the technician full reinstatement to his former position or, if that position no longer exists, to a substantially equivalent position, without prejudice to his seniority or any other rights or privileges previously enjoyed, and to make him whole for any loss of earnings and other benefits suffered as a result of the discrimination against him. The ALJ also said that the employer should compensate him for adverse tax consequences, if any, of receiving a lump-sum backpay award and to file a report with the Social Security Administration allocating the backpay award to appropriate calendar quarters.

The Panel’s Decision

The Board majority agreed with the ALJ’s application of Lutheran Village to find that the Respondent violated Section 8(a)(1) by maintaining overly broad handbook rules and that the technician engaged in protected concerted activity when he called another employee to warn the employee that his job was in jeopardy and the Respondent violated Section 8(a)(1) by discharging the technician for that activity.  The majority said, “We agree with the judge’s application of Lutheran Heritage … to find that the respondent violated Section 8(a)(1) by maintaining overly broad handbook rules. . . . We also agree with the judge that [the technician] engaged in protected concerted activity.” The panel also agreed with the ALJ that the technician should be awarded backpay in the form of a lump sum, but disagreed with the ALJ as to how the Respondent must report and allocate that payment.

Member Miscimarra’s Concurring and Dissenting Opinion

Member Miscimarra concurred with the majority’s finding that the technician engaged in protected concerted activity when he telephoned his coworker to warn him that his job was in jeopardy, and he agreed that the Respondent violated Section 8(a)(1) of the Act when it discharged the technician for doing so. However, regarding the majority’s finding that the Respondent violated Section 8(a)(1) by maintaining the two work rules, Miscimarra disagreed with those violation findings, and he also disagreed with the standard that the ALJ and the majority applied in reaching those findings:  he said, “Unlike my colleagues and the judge, I believe the Board should not apply the ‘reasonably construe’ standard [from Lutheran Village].”

Miscimarra said that he believes the Lutheran Heritage ‘reasonably construe’ standard should be overruled by the Board or repudiated by the courts.

Instead, Member Miscimarra endorsed the standard he articulated in the NLRB’s decision William Beaumont Hospital, 363 NLRB No. 162, slip op. at 7–24 (2016) (Member Miscimarra, concurring in part and dissenting in part).  In William Beaumont, he articulated his view that the Board is required to evaluate an employer’s workplace rules, policies and handbook provisions by striking a “proper balance” that takes into account (i) the legitimate justifications associated with the disputed rules and (ii) any potential adverse impact on NLRA protected activity, and a “facially neutral” policy, rule or handbook provision (defined as a rule that does not expressly restrict Section 7 activity, was not adopted in response to NLRA-protected activity, and has not been applied to restrict NLRA-protected activity) should be declared unlawful only if the legitimate justifications an employer may have for maintaining the rule are outweighed by its potential adverse impact on Section 7 activity.  Applying that standard, Member Miscimarra said that the Board should find that the two rules at issue are lawful.

Conclusion

Notwithstanding Member Miscimara’s dissenting opinion, Lutheran Village remains viable NLRB precedent, as evidenced by the majority’s application of that decision.  Accordingly, this case is yet another example of the NLRB’s broad view of what constitutes “concerted protected activity,” “work rules” and unlawful activity under the Act. Because what constitutes an overbroad work rule is not always clear-cut, any employer subject to the Act (one whose company affects commerce) should carefully review its various agreements, policies and handbooks to ensure that they do not contain rules that would not be reasonably construed to chill union-related activities. While there are swirling questions on how aggressive the future NLRB will be under a new administration, in the meantime, taking a proactive approach of revising potentially problematic work rules will put employers in the best possible position if they find themselves facing scrutiny from the NLRB.

Employers Under the Microscope: Is Change on the Horizon?

When:  Tuesday, October 18, 2016    8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Where:  New York Hilton Midtown, 1335 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019

Epstein Becker Green’s Annual Workforce Management Briefing will focus on the latest developments in labor and employment law, including:

  • Latest Developments from the NLRB
  • Attracting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce
  • ADA Website Compliance
  • Trade Secrets and Non-Competes
  • Managing and Administering Leave Policies
  • New Overtime Rules
  • Workplace Violence and Active-Shooter Situations
  • Recordings in the Workplace
  • Instilling Corporate Ethics

This year, we welcome Marc Freedman and Jim Plunkett from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  Marc and Jim will speak at the first plenary session on the latest developments in Washington, D.C., that impact employers nationwide.

We are also excited to have Dr. David Weil, Administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, serve as the guest speaker at the second plenary session. David will discuss the areas on which the Wage and Hour Division is focusing, including the new overtime rules.

In addition to workshop sessions led by attorneys at Epstein Becker Green – including some contributors to this blog! – we are also looking forward to hearing from our keynote speaker, Former New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton.

View the full briefing agenda here.

Visit the briefing website for more information and to register, and contact Sylwia Faszczewska or Elizabeth Gannon with questions.  Seating is limited.

Our colleague Steven M. Swirsky, a Member of the Firm at Epstein Becker Green, has a post on the Management Memo blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the financial services industry: “Can Your Corporate Social Responsibility Policy Make You a Joint-Employer With Your Suppliers? The NLRB May Find That It Does

Following is an excerpt:

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board), which continues to apply an ever expanding standard for determining whether a company that contracts with another business to supply contract labor or services in support of its operations should be treated as a joint employer of the supplier or contractor’s employees, is now considering whether a company’s requirement that its suppliers and contractors comply with its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Policy, which includes minimum standards for the contractor or supplier’s practices with its own employees can support a claim that the customer is a joint employer. …

Employers are well advised to review the full range of their operations and personnel decisions, including their use of contingent and temporaries and personnel supplied by temporary and other staffing agencies to assess their vulnerability to such action and to determine what steps they make take to better position themselves for the challenges that are surely coming.

Read the full post here.

Our colleagues Adam C. Abrahms and Steven M. Swirsky, attorneys at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Management Memo blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the financial services industry: “NLRB Drops Other Shoe on Temporary/Contract Employee Relationships: Ruling Will Require Bargaining In Combined Units Including Employees of Multiple Employers – Greatly Multiplies Impact of BFI Expanded Joint Employer Test.”

Following is an excerpt:

The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) announced in its 3-1 decision in Miller & Anderson, 364 NLRB #39 (2016) that it will now conduct representation elections and require collective bargaining in single combined units composed of what it refers to as “solely employed employees” and “jointly employed employees,” meaning that two separate employers will be required to join together to bargain over such employees’ terms and conditions of employment.” …

The potential for confusion and uncertainty is enormous. In an attempt to minimize these concerns, the Board majority stated that the so-called user employer’s bargaining obligations will be limited to those of such workers’ terms and conditions that it possesses “the authority to control.”

Read the full post here.

Our colleague Steven M. Swirsky, a Member of the Firm at Epstein Becker Green, has a post on the Management Memo blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the financial services industry: “Federal Appeals Court Sides with NLRB – Holds Arbitration Agreement and Class Action Waiver Violates Employee Rights and Unenforceable.

Following is an excerpt:

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago has now sided with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) in its decision in Lewis v. Epic Systems Corporation, and found that an employer’s arbitration agreement that it required all of its workers to sign, requiring them to bring any wage and hour claims that they have against the company in individual arbitrations “violates the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and is unenforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act FAA).” …

The decision of the Seventh Circuit, finding that the Board’s view was not inconsistent with the FAA, sets the ground for continued uncertainty as employers wrestle with the issue.  Clearly, the question is one that is likely to remain open until such time as the Supreme Court agrees to consider the divergent views, or the Board, assuming a new majority appointed by a different President, reevaluates its own position.

Read the full post here.

Our colleague Steven M. Swirsky, a Member of the Firm at Epstein Becker Green, has a post on the Management Memo blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the financial services industry: “NLRB Looks to Make It Harder for Employees to Decertify Unions.”

Following is an excerpt:

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel Richard F. Griffin, Jr., has announced in a newly issued Memorandum Regional Directors in the agency’s offices across the country that he is seeking a change in law that would make it much more difficult for employees who no longer wish to be represented by a union to do so.  Under long standing case law, an employer has had the right to unilaterally withdraw recognition from a union when there is objective evidence that a majority of the employees in a bargaining unit no longer want the union to represent them. …

An employer faced with evidence that a majority of its employees no longer wish to be represented by their union has always faced a difficult choice – whether to petition for an election or to respect its employees’ request and take the risk of charges and litigation by immediately withdrawing recognition. Clear understanding of the law and facts, as well as the potential consequences of each course of action has always been critical.  By issuing this Memo and announcing his goal, the stakes have clearly been raised, and the right of employees to decide—perhaps the ultimate purpose of the National Labor Relations Act—has been placed at serious risk.

Read the full post here.

Jonathan L. ShapiroLauri F. RasnickIn a recent decision, a National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) ruled that Quicken Loans’s (the “Company”) Detroit, Michigan branch (along with five related entities) violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) by using and disseminating an employee manual in its non-union workplace that the ALJ concluded interfered with employees’ rights under the NLRA.  This was yet another case in which the NLRB took aim against Quicken Loans for adopting work rules and/or policies that an ALJ found would “chill” non-unionized employees in the exercise of their rights under the NLRA.  As we previously discussed in another blog post, in March 2016, the NLRB found that the Company’s branch in Scottsdale, Arizona violated the NLRA by implementing unlawful work rules after one of its bankers used profanity and complained about a client in an office restroom.

The most recent case revolved around a 238-page employee manual referred to as the “Big Book.”  In Quicken Loans Inc. et al. and Hugh MacEachern, Case Number 07-CA-145794, an ALJ found a number of provisions in the Big Book unlawfully interfered with employees’ rights to engage in concerted activities concerning their terms and conditions of employment.  Although Quicken Loans has vowed to appeal the April decision to the Board in Washington for setting a “dangerous precedent,” the decision in reality follows a long line of NLRB precedents that have taken a buzz-saw to employment policies and agreements where it believes they may interfere with employees’ protected Section 7 activity (i.e., activity that implicates employees’ right to form, join or assist labor organizations or collectively bargain or act for their mutual aid and protection).  In this latest decision, the ALJ reviewed a number of the Big Book’s rules, ultimately finding many, but not all, to be unlawful on account of being “overbroad,” which the ALJ explained means is a rule that is broader than necessary to protect the employer’s legitimate interest and that “employees would reasonably interpret . . . to encompass protected activities” under the NLRA.  We list and discuss some of these rules below to shed light on what the NLRB considers to be unlawful interference with employees’ rights, as opposed to a lawful work rule.

Found to be Unlawful Rules:

  • “This book contains confidential information that must not be disclosed outside the Company or used for purposes other than for the Company’s legitimate business purposes. This book or any of its contents may not be reproduced or disseminated to anyone not employed by the Company.” The ALJ concluded this rule was overbroad and would be seen by employees as prohibiting actions protected by the NLRA because there was no way for an employee to know what portions of the Big Book were confidential. Moreover, a blanket prohibition on dissemination of “any of [the Big Book’s] contents” was overbroad because the Big Book discussed matters relating to the terms and conditions of employment.
  • “Think before you Tweet. Or post, comment or pin. What you share can live forever. If it doesn’t belong on the front page of the New York Times, don’t put it online.” The ALJ found this to be a violation of the NLRA because an employee considering this rule would reasonably feel chilled from expressing negative, but protected, information about the Company, which is protected by the NLRA.
  • “The Company recognizes that team members may desire to display mementos pertaining to family or other personal items. However, nothing can be displayed that is, or could be deemed to be, harmful or offensive to a reasonable person and his or her system of beliefs.” The ALJ concluded this rule was unlawful because a reasonable employee would “think twice” in the face of this rule before displaying pro-union mementos and thus would see it as a prohibition on union related activity.
  • “The Company’s buildings, offices, common areas . . . are to be used only for conducting Company business and transactions, and for no other purpose.” The ALJ found this rule was unlawful because an employee would reasonably understand it to bar solicitation and other protected activity at times and in places where such activities are protected by the NLRA.
  •  “You shall not photograph or record through any means the Company’s operations, systems, presentations, communications, voicemails, or meetings.” The ALJ found that this policy was unlawful because employees would likely understand this to prohibit protected activity, such as the recording of a meeting held to discuss wages and other terms and conditions of employment.
  •  “[You may not use] Company Resources to engage in inappropriate acts that exhibit conduct that is not in the best interests of the Company, its clients, or Team Members”; “[You may not use a] signature line that contain religious, political, sexual or other inappropriate content.” The ALJ found the first rule was overbroad and unlawfully interfered with employees’ rights because an employee would believe that using email to harshly criticize the terms and conditions of employment would be considered “inappropriate” action “not in the best interest of the Company.” Similarly, the ALJ held that the second rule was unlawful and interfered with employees’ statutory rights because an employee would likely believe that “inappropriate content” would include speech protected by Section 7 of the NLRA.
  •  “[You may not] “Communicat[e] with the media without express authorization from the Corporate Communications Team.” The ALJ found this to be a “straightforward” violation of the NLRA because employees have a right to communicate with the media on subjects relating to their terms and conditions of employment, including but not limited to formation of and membership in and representation by unions.

Found to be Lawful Rules:

  • “From time to time, team members may have access to private Company information, for example, information about financial performance, strategy, forecasts, etc. Such information is confidential, any may not be shared with people or entities outside the Company—including members of the media.” The ALJ said this provision was lawful because, based on the explanation of the type of information covered by the rule, employees would reasonably understand that the rule related to their employers’ interest in the security of their proprietary information and not to information protected by Section 7.
  •  Unacceptable conduct includes: “Harassment: verbal, physical, or visual harassment of a team member, client, consultant, business partner, vendor or any other person associated with the Company.” The ALJ stated that this was lawful because employees have a right to a workplace free of unlawful harassment.
  • “You acknowledge and agree that: (a) all documents . . . and (b) all office equipment and supplies . . . are and shall remain the property of the Company . . . The ALJ held that this was lawful because it included no language prohibiting the sharing, copying or dissemination of employee lists or other information that is described as company property.
  • Transmission of Sensitive Information. Sensitive information must not be transmitted over the Internet without prior management approval.” The ALJ said that this was lawful because the Big Book defined Sensitive Information and provided 21 examples of such information. Thus, it would be unreasonable for an employee to conclude that he was precluded by this work rule from transmitting Section 7 information.
  •  “Personal Electronic Devices. Approval from management . . . is needed before any Sensitive Company information is stored on a personal electronic device, and the amount of information stored should be kept to a minimum. Special protection needs to be enabled on each device to ensure that the stored information is kept secure. The ALJ found that an employee would not likely construe “sensitive” information to include information protected by Section 7 activity.

Based on the findings, the ALJ ordered Respondents to cease and desist from maintaining the overly broad work rules.  Respondents, however, had already done so:  on December 4, 2015, by email notice sent to all employees, the Respondents rescinded all versions of the Big Book, effective immediately.

This case is yet another example of the NLRB’s continued broad view of what constitutes “concerted protected activity,” “work rules” and unlawful activity under the Act.  Because the distinction between an overbroad and lawful work rule is not always clear-cut, any employer subject to the Act (one whose company affects commerce) should carefully review its various agreements and policies, whether in an nondisclosure agreement, offer letter, handbook, manual, separation agreement, or the like to ensure that they do not contain rules that would potentially chill union-related activities.  Taking a proactive approach will put employers in the best possible position if they have to face scrutiny from the NLRB.