June 26, 2014

Supreme Court invalidates President’s NLRB recess appointments

Posted in Collective Bargaining, National Labor Relations Act, Posting Requrements, Protected Concerted Activity, Social Media, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 1:52 pm by Tom Jacobson

In a 9-0 decision, the United States Supreme Court today struck down as unconstitutional President Barack Obama’s January, 2012 recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The decision calls into question the validity of hundreds of decisions made by the NLRB from January, 2012 to August, 2013.

The case, National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, involved the NLRB’s determination that Noel Canning had committed unfair labor practices under the National Labor Relations Act. Noel Canning challenged the NLRB’s authority to make such a determination on the basis that the board itself was improperly constituted at the time of its decision.  Specifically, Noel Canning argued that President Obama’s three appointments to the board in January, 2012 were unconstitutional because he made them without the advice and consent of the Senate. The Supreme Court sided with Noel Canning.

The fallout from the high court’s decision is uncertain, but it could mean that hundreds of decisions made by the NLRB while the board was unconstitutionally composed will be invalidated.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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January 22, 2013

Updating employee handbooks: now is the time

Posted in Acknowledgment, Arrest records, At-will Employment, Background Checking, Computer Use, Confidential Information, Conviction Records, Criminal History, Disclaimers, Employee Handbooks, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Hiring and Recruiting, Internet Policies, Interviewing, Leaves of Absence, Leaves of Absence, Minnesota Parenting Leave Act, National Labor Relations Act, Protected Concerted Activity, Social Media, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Networking tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:47 am by Tom Jacobson

employee handbook1I recently had the privilege of speaking at and moderating a day-long seminar covering recent developments in employment law. Although the topics ranged broadly from background checks to the basics of employee leave, one common theme emerged: employers who have not kept their employee handbooks and other policies up to date are running the increased risk of liability for legal claims brought by their employees.

For example:

  • Some commonly used “at-will” employment acknowledgments, confidentiality clauses, investigation practices, and social medial policies have been deemed to violate the National Labor Relations Act.
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published guidance on how arrest and conviction records may be used when performing background checks on applicants or employees. Among other things, these guidelines address when an individualized assessment of an applicant’s or employee’s arrest or conviction record should be done.
  • One recent litigation trend is employers and employees (or former employees)  fighting over the ownership of social media accounts and followers.
  • Recent court decisions have broadly interpreted employees’ rights to parenting leave under Minnesota law.
  • At least four states (California, Illinois, Maryland and Michigan) have adopted laws regulating employers’ access to employees’ social media sites, and similar legislation has been proposed in Minnesota.

What you need to know: If your employee handbooks and policies have not been reviewed by legal counsel and updated recently, now is the time. For more information about this process, please contact me at 320-763-3141 or taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2013 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

October 5, 2012

NLRB Rules in Favor of Employer in its First Facebook Firing Case, Strikes down “Courtesy” Policy

Posted in Computer Use, Employee Handbooks, Facebook, National Labor Relations Act, Protected Concerted Activity, Social Media, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Networking tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 8:58 am by Tom Jacobson

In its first decision in a case involving allegations of a firing over Facebook postings, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled in favor of the employer. In the same decision, the Board struck down the employer’s “Courtesy” policy.

The dispute centered mainly around two Facebook postings by a salesman for Knauz BMW in Lake Bluff, IL. In one, he posted sarcastic comments and photos of a Land Rover after it was driven by a customer’s 13-year old child over a wall and into a pond at an adjacent dealership. In the other post, he criticized Knauz for serving hot dogs and water at a luxury car sales event. He was fired a week later. The primary issue in the case became whether he was fired because of the Land Rover photos or because of his criticism of the dealership.

According to the NLRB, being fired for criticizing the dealership may have violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA protects the group actions of employees who are discussing or trying to improve their terms and conditions of employment. It also protects individual employees if they are acting on behalf of the group. Here, the NLRB said that because the Facebook criticism “involved co-workers who were concerned about the effect of the low-cost food on the image of the dealership and, ultimately, their sales and commissions,” being fired for those comments may have violated the NLRA.

However, the NRLB also noted that posting the Land Rover photos was not protected by the NLRA. This is because they were “[P]osted solely by [the employee], apparently as a lark, without any discussion with any other employee of the [dealership], and had no connection to any of the employees’ terms and conditions of employment.”

The administrative law judge who tried the case, Joel P. Biblowitz, found that the salesman was fired because of the Land Rover photos and not because of the Facebook criticism. The NLRB agreed with Judge Biblowitz and, therefore, affirmed that the dealership did not violate the NLRA when it fired the salesman.

Another issue in the case was the following “Courtesy” policy at Knauz:

Courtesy: 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 or reputation of the Dealership.

The three-member panel split 2-1 on whether this policy violated the NLRA. The majority ruled that it did. Their reasoning was that employees may have reasonably believed that the policy prohibited any protests or criticisms, even those protected by the NLRA. The dissenting judge interpreted the rule as “nothing more than a common-sense behavioral guideline for employees” and was not “a restriction on the content of conversations (such as a prohibition against discussion of wages)”.

What you need to know: Because the NLRB ruled that the salesman was fired for a non-protected reason (posting the sarcastic Land Rover photos), the Board did not rule on whether the criticism posted on Facebook was actually protected by the NLRA. The NLRB is likely to rule on that issue in future cases. In the meantime, the boundaries of what kinds of social media commentary are protected by the NLRA remain unclear. Therefore, employees should use care when posting work-related commentary on Facebook, and employers should use care when considering whether to take action based on such postings. In addition, employers should re-evaluate any “courtesy” rules to make sure they do not violate their employees’ rights under the NLRA.

For more information about this article or how to address social media issues in the workplace, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2012 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

July 18, 2012

Is your at-will employment policy at risk?

Posted in Acknowledgment, At-will Employment, Collective Bargaining, Contracts, Disclaimers, Disclaimers, Employee Handbooks, National Labor Relations Act, Protected Concerted Activity tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:39 am by Tom Jacobson

At-will employment is perceived as a sacred cow for most employers, but in a pair of recent cases the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has successfully challenged the at-will employment policies of two U.S. employers.

Generally speaking, at-will employment is the concept that employees are employed for no particular duration. This means that either the at-will employee or his/her employer may end their employment relationship at any time, with or without notice, and with or without cause. The vast majority of Minnesota employees are at-will employees. The polar opposite of at-will employment is employment subject to contractual terms, such as a union contract.

When improperly written, employee handbooks and similar written policies can be interpreted as contracts which, contrary to the at-will concept, give employees the right to continued employment, pre-termination disciplinary actions and/or other protections. Thus, to preserve the at-will relationship, astute employers include in their employee handbooks and other policy documentation language disclaiming any contractual relationship and confirming the at-will status.

These types of disclaimers were recently challenged by the NLRB in the cases of Hyatt Hotels Corporation and American Red Cross Arizona Blood Services Region. The Hyatt case involved an acknowledgment form which indicated that the employees’ at-will status could not be altered except by a written statement signed by the employee and specified company executives. Similarly, the American Red Cross case involved a disclaimer which stated that the employees’ at-will status could not be amended, modified or altered in any way.

The NLRB argued that these limitations on how the employees’ at-will status could be changed were unlawful interference with the employees’ rights to engage in protected concerted activity, such as collective bargaining. The Hyatt case was settled when Hyatt agreed, among other things, to discontinue using the challenged language in its acknowledgment form. The American Red Cross case resulted in the NLRB issuing an order compelling the employer to cease and desist from using the disputed language in its forms.

What you need to know: To preserve the at-will employment relationship, employee handbooks and related policy documentation must include appropriate disclaimers.  However, to reduce the risk of a legal challenge, those disclaimers must be carefully written so as to not interfere with employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act. Existing disclaimers should be reviewed by legal counsel for compliance in light of these recent NLRB cases. 

For more information about this article, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2012 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

June 12, 2012

NLRB Issues Third Social Media Report

Posted in Computer Use, Employee Handbooks, Facebook, National Labor Relations Act, Protected Concerted Activity, Social Media, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Networking tagged , , , at 9:26 am by Tom Jacobson

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on May 30, 2012 issued its third report addressing social media in the workplace.  Like its two previous reports, this one analyzes social media policies used by various employers, and it describes how they are lawful or unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  This report covers concepts such as:

  • Use of social media and confidential information
  • “Friending” co-workers
  • Privacy, legal matters, online tone, prior permission, and resolving concerns
  • Expressing opinions
  • Bullying
  • Reporting unsolicited electronic communications
  • Unauthorized postings
  • Media and government contact

The NLRB’s third report then concludes with the text of an entire social media policy which it found to be lawful under the NLRA.  “I hope that this report, with its specific examples of various employer policies and rules, will provide additional guidance in this area,” said NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon.  Despite Solomon’s optimism, others predict court challenges over what may be an overly restrictive view of what workplace social media policies may say (see A. Smith, NLRB Takes Sledgehammer to Social Media Policies, SHRM Legal Resources, 6/1/12).

For more information about the NLRB’s other social media reports, see my previous articles, Social Media Report #2 Issued by NLRB and Social Media Report Issued by NLRB.

What you need to know:  It’s a fine line between social media posts that are protected concerted activity under the NLRA and those that are not. Likewise, it is a fine line between social media policies that do or do not violate the NLRA. Therefore, before action is taken against an employee because of his or her social media activity, and before social media policies are implemented, the NLRA itself and the NLRB’s position on these issues must be taken into account.

For more information about this article or how to address social media issues in the workplace, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2012 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

February 1, 2012

Social media report #2 issued by NLRB

Posted in Computer Use, Employee Handbooks, Facebook, National Labor Relations Act, Protected Concerted Activity, Social Media, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Networking tagged , , , at 9:07 am by Tom Jacobson

In my October 19, 2011 article, Social Media Report Issued by NLRB, I wrote about a report issued by Lafe Solomon, Acting General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  His report highlighted several cases where actions taken against employees were evaluated under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  Solomon has now issued a second such memorandum.

The new report reiterates the main underpinnings of the initial report.  As summarized by the NLRB:

    • Employer policies should not be so sweeping that they prohibit the kinds of activity protected by federal labor law, such as the discussion of wages or working conditions among employees.
    • An employee’s comments on social media are generally not protected if they are mere gripes not made in relation to group activity among employees.

Because Solomon’s reports quote actual practices and/or policies which were in various cases found to be lawful or unlawful, they are good resources for any employer to review when considering social media-based disciplinary action against an employee or when implementing or revising social media policies.

What you need to know:  It’s a fine line between social media posts that are protected concerted activity under the NLRA and those that are not. Likewise, it is a fine line between social media policies that do or do not violate the NLRA. Therefore, before action is taken against an employee because of his or her social media activity, and before social media policies are implemented, the NLRA itself and the NLRB’s position on these issues must be taken into account.

For more information about this article or how to address social media issues in the workplace, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

October 19, 2011

Social media report issued by NLRB

Posted in Computer Use, Employee Handbooks, Facebook, National Labor Relations Act, Protected Concerted Activity, Social Media, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Networking tagged , , , at 8:20 am by Tom Jacobson

In a report issued by its Acting General Counsel, Lafe Solomon, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has highlighted several cases where actions taken against employees were considered under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  As Solomon noted in the report, “Recent developments in the Office of the General Counsel have presented emerging issues concerning the protected and/or concerted nature of employees’ Facebook and Twitter postings, the coercive impact of a union’s Facebook and YouTube postings, and the lawfulness of employers’ social media policies and rules.”

Among other things, the report summarizes four cases where employees were found to have engaged in “protected concerted activity” under the NLRA via their social media posts.  Conversely, the report lists five cases where no protected activity was found.  What made the difference in each of these cases was whether the employees’ posts related to the terms and conditions of their employment and whether the posts involved discussions with other employees (that is, “concerted activity”). In the cases where no protected activity was found, one or both of those elements was missing.

It’s a fine line between social media posts that are protected concerted activity under the NLRA and those that are not. For more information about this article or how to address social media issues in the workplace, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

August 26, 2011

A post about posters — new workplace posting requirement imposed by NLRB

Posted in Posting & Notice Requirements, Posting Requirements, Workplace Posters tagged , , , at 4:11 pm by Tom Jacobson

The National Labor Relations Board has issued a final rule requiring most private-sector employers to notify employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.  The final rule, which is scheduled to be published on August 30, will go into effect on November 14, 2011, and it will apply to nearly all private-sector employers in the U.S.

Therefore, unless employers fit into one of the NLRB’s narrow exemptions, they will be required to post the notice, and they may be required to notify employees of their rights via other means, such as via an intranet or internet site. Employers are exempt from the notice requirements if they do not fit the NLRB’s jurisdictional standards.  Those standards are primarily based on the size of the company and the nature of its business, and they are summarized in the final rule.

The NLRB has also published a fact sheet that briefly explains the rule.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the legality of the rule is likely to be challenged because the majority of the 7,034 comments the NLRB received on the rule were in opposition to it (Board Issues Final Rule on Posting Requirement, SHRM 8/26/2011).  However, unless and until the rule is actually struck down or withdrawn, it is a rule that will apply to nearly all private-sector employers in the U.S.

Of course, the NLRB is not the only authority that imposes posting requirements. Various state and federal agencies mandate their own notices. Minnesota employers can find and download state-mandated posters from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry’s website.

For more information about this case, contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson, PA

February 16, 2011

Proposed rule: employers must post notice of union rights

Posted in Posting Requirements, Posting Requrements tagged , , , , , , at 10:50 am by Tom Jacobson

Under a rule proposed by the National Labor Relations Board, employers would be required to post a notice informing employees of their right to unionize.  According to the NLRB, “[M]any employees protected by the NLRA are unaware of their rights under the statute. The intended effects of this action are to increase knowledge of the NLRA among employees, to better enable the exercise of rights under the statute, and to promote statutory compliance by employers and unions.”  (See Board proposes rule to require posting of NLRA rights, NLRB Dec. 10, 2010 http://bit.ly/e8BEx4).

If the rule, (http://bit.ly/f4A8GU) becomes final, employers would be required to post yet another notice along with the myriad of other employment-related notices they must already post.  Furthermore, failure to post the notice would be treated as an unfair labor practice under the National Labor Relations Act.

Board member Brian Hayes dissented from the proposed rule, noting “the Board lacks the statutory authority to promulgate or enforce the type of rule which the petitions contemplated and which the proposed rule makes explicit.”  Other opponents have noted that the proposed notice provides a skewed explanation of employees’ rights along with pro-organizing examples.  (See NLRB rule has lawyers bracing for litigation, Minnesota Lawyer Feb. 14, 2011).

There is certainly a basis for these concerns.  The NLRA is a complex statute which is not limited to merely granting rights to employees; it also imposes obligations on them, and it provides certain protections to employers as well.  The text of the NLRB’s proposed notice lists all of the employees’ rights, but it does not mention their corresponding obligations or the employers’ rights.

The comment period for this proposed rule ends on February 22, 2010.  Comments may be posted electronically by going to http://bit.ly/f4A8GU.

If you have any questions about this post, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson, PA

February 10, 2011

Facebook firing case settled

Posted in Collective Bargaining, Employee Handbooks, Internet Policies, National Labor Relations Act, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Networking tagged , , , , , , at 3:41 pm by Tom Jacobson

Last November I noted that the National Labor Relations Board had filed a complaint against American Medical Response of Connecticut, Inc., after AMR fired Dawnmarie Souza for posting negative comments about AMR on Facebook (see NLRB challenges Facebook firing,  http://bit.ly/ebpxp7).

The problems started when Souza posted negative comments about her supervisor on Facebook and then responded to comments her co-workers had also posted.  Souza was fired because of her commentary, and the NLRB took the position that firing her violated the National Labor Relations Act because it interfered with her right to discuss with her co-workers the terms and conditions of their employment.

The case has now been settled (see Settlement reached in case involving discharge for Facebook comments,  http://bit.ly/gAfETD.  According to the NLRB, the settlement requires AMR to “revise its overly-broad rules to ensure that they do not improperly restrict employees from discussing their wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers and others while not at work, and that they would not discipline or discharge employees for engaging in such discussions.”  A private and undisclosed settlement was also reached between Souza and AMR.

Although the National Labor Relations Act was enacted long before anyone ever posted anything on Facebook,  the Souza case shows that the right of employees to discuss the terms and conditions of employment is being extended into the realm of social medial.  Therefore, the case should cause employers to take a close look at their social media policies to make sure they are not overbroad.

If you have any questions about this post, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

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