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

November 2, 2012

NLRB’s Halloween at-will advice is not so scary

Posted in Acknowledgment, At-will Employment, Contracts, Disclaimers, Disclaimers, Employee Handbooks tagged , , , , , , at 10:28 am by Tom Jacobson

Wednesday was Halloween, and my neighborhood was crawling with trick-or-treaters. The scary part was not the kids or their costumes. Rather, it was the insomnia-inducing sugar rush I got after working quality control on the night shift.

Also on Wednesday, one scary trend in the world of employment law seems to have been averted. The trend was that in a couple of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cases, common at-will employment clauses were interpreted as violating the National Labor Relations Act. However, on Wednesday the NLRB’s Acting General Counsel, Lafe Solomon, issued an Advice Memo which analyzed two such clauses and reached the not-so-scary conclusion that they did not violate the Act.

In one case, a handbook which had been issued by Rocha Transportation of Modesto, CA included the following at-will clause:

No manager, supervisor, or employee of Rocha Transportation has any authority to enter into an agreement for employment for any specified period of time or to make an agreement for employment other than at-will …. Only the president of the Company has the authority to make any such agreement and then only in writing.

In the other case, the handbook used by Mimi’s Café in Casa Grande, AZ said:

No representative of the Company has authority to enter into any agreement contrary to the foregoing “employment at will” relationship.

The scary part was that in other recent NLRB cases, similar clauses were interpreted as being unlawful waivers of employees’ rights to engage in collective bargaining under the NLRA. If that trend were to continue, the at-will clauses in countless employee handbooks across the country would be subject to challenge.

However, the NLRB’s Halloween Advice Memo allays those fears somewhat by concluding in the Rocha case that because the at-will clause explicitly states that the relationship can be changed, employees would not reasonably assume that their NLRA rights are prohibited. Similarly, regarding Mimi’s Cafe, the Advice Memo notes that the at-will clause was not unlawfully broad because it does not require employees to agree that the employment relationship cannot be changed, but merely stresses that the employer’s representatives are not authorized to alter it.

What you need to know:  At-will employment generally gives employees and employers alike the flexibility to end their relationship at any time, with or without notice, and for any lawful reason. Handbook clauses like the ones noted above are intended to help preserve that status. However, if they are not properly drafted, or if they are inconsistent with an employer’s other documentation, the clauses may be unlawful or may not actually preserve the at-will employment relationship. Therefore, to ensure compliance, employers should have their at-will employment documentation reviewed by legal counsel.  

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

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 22, 2012

Poster Wars — the Saga Continues

Posted in National Labor Relations Act, Posting & Notice Requirements, Posting Requirements, Posting Requrements tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 2:16 pm by Tom Jacobson

The saga continues over the workplace poster requirement imposed by the National Labor Relations Board. As I have previously noted, in a lawsuit brought by the National Association of Manufacturers, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has already issued an injunction temporarily blocking the requirement.

In a separate federal lawsuit brought by the United States and South Carolina Chambers of Commerce, another federal judge concluded that the rule is unlawful. However, the NLRB has now appealed that decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. If the Fourth Circuit rules in favor of the NLRB, the split between the Fourth Circuit and the DC Courts of Appeal would set up the possibility of the issue ultimately being resolved by the United States Supreme Court.

For more information about the roller coaster history of this proposed rule, see my previous articles (A Post about Posters – New Workplace Posting Requirement Imposed by NLRBNLRB’s Posting Requirement Delayed, NLRB’s Posting Requirement Delayed Again, and NLRB’s Posting Requirement Blocked by Federal Court).

What you need to know: The NLRB’s rule, if eventually upheld, would require nearly all private-sector employers to post a notice informing employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. The rule would also establish that an employer’s failure to post the notice “may be found to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed by [the] NLRA…“. However, because of the DC Circuit’s temporary injunction, the rule is not in effect, so employers are not  required to post the notice. The Fourth Circuit appeal will also shed more light on the issue. Stay tuned.

For more information about this issue, 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

April 18, 2012

NLRB’s Posting Requirement Blocked by Federal Court

Posted in National Labor Relations Act, Posting & Notice Requirements, Posting Requirements, Posting Requrements tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 9:23 am by Tom Jacobson

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued on April 17, 2012 an injunction which temporarily blocks the posting requirement the National Labor Relations Board has been attempting to impose.  The order was issued in the National Association of Manufacturers lawsuit I noted in my previous article, NLRB’s Posting Requirement Upheld – but Weakened – by Federal Judge.  For more information about the appellate court’s injunction, see NLRB Union Poster Rule Delayed While Challenge Proceeds and Appeals court blocks National Labor Relations Board from requiring union posters at work sites.

For more information about the roller coaster history of this proposed rule, see my previous articles (A Post about Posters – New Workplace Posting Requirement Imposed by NLRBNLRB’s Posting Requirement Delayed, and NLRB’s Posting Requirement Delayed Again).

What you need to know: The NLRB’s rule would have required nearly all private-sector employers to post by April 30, 2012 a notice informing employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.   However, because of this temporary injunction, those employers will not be required to post the notice, but this could change as the issue winds its way through the federal court system. Stay tuned.

For more information about this issue, 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

March 13, 2012

NLRB’s posting requirement upheld – but weakened – by federal judge

Posted in National Labor Relations Act, Posting & Notice Requirements, Posting Requrements tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 9:05 am by Tom Jacobson

A federal judge has ruled that part of the new poster requirement imposed by the National Labor Relations Board is valid, but other parts of the rule go too far.  As noted in my previous articles (A post about posters – new workplace posting requirement imposed by NLRBNLRB’s posting requirement delayed, and NLRB’s posting requirement delayed again), the posting requirement goes into effect on April 30, 2012, and it will require nearly all private-sector employers to post a notice informing employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. The notice can be downloaded from the NLRB’s website.

The National Association of Manufacturers has challenged the requirement in a lawsuit brought against the NLRB in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. In a 46 page opinion issued on March 2, 2012 Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the posting requirement itself is lawful.

However, Judge Berman Jackson also concluded that other parts of the NLRB’s rule went too far. Specifically, she ordered that the NLRB exceeded its authority when it tried to make any failure to post the notice an unfair labor practice (ULP). She also concluded that the NLRB’s rule went too far by tolling the statute of limitations (that is, extending the time for taking legal action) in any future ULP action involving a job site where the notice was not posted.

What you need to know: Unless is it completely overturned in court, withdrawn by the NLRB, or stopped by congressional action, this posting requirement will go into effect on April 30, 2012. Even though Judge Berman Jackson has weakened the requirement by declaring that “the Board cannot make a blanket advance determination that a failure to post will always constitute an unfair labor practice,” the NLRB can still make the case that a failure to post is a ULP if the NLRB can “make a specific finding based on the facts and circumstances in the individual case before it that the failure to post interfered with the employee’s exercise of his or her rights.” To reduce that risk, post the notice.

For more information about this issue, 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

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