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Does Your Employee Handbook Satisfy The NLRB?


Under the current federal administration, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been reviewing language in employee handbooks and other company policy statements with a critical eye. This review is occurring in non-union workplaces as well as in union shops. The NLRB is looking to prohibit language that can be interpreted in any way to discourage employees from freely talking about their employment terms and conditions.


Under the National Labor Relations Act, section 7 protects an employee’s right to freely speak about workplace terms and conditions with other employees. This is called “concerted activity.”


In a decision recently handed down on April 2, 2014*, examples of prohibited language in company handbooks and policies were listed. These included:


  • BAD LANGUAGE: A personal conduct rule that prohibited “discourteous or inappropriate attitude or behavior to passengers, other employees or members of the public, as well as disorderly conduct during working hours.”

    • The NLRB found this language was unlawfully overbroad because the phrase “inappropriate attitude or behavior . . . to other employees” could discourage employees from talking about their employment.

  • BAD LANGUAGE: A personal conduct rule that prohibited an “inability or unwillingness to work harmoniously with other employees.”

    • The NLRB found this language so imprecise it could include any disagreement or conflict among employees, including those related to discussions about employment.

  • BAD LANGUAGE: Prohibiting the disclosure of “any company information,” including wage and benefit information.

    • The NLRB has long held that workplace policies cannot prevent employees from discussing their wages, other compensation, or benefits.

  • BAD LANGUAGE: Prohibiting statements about a work-related accident “to anyone except the police or company officials.”

  • BAD LANGUAGE: Prohibiting making “false” statements concerning the company.

    • The NLRB felt that the policy should have prohibited “maliciously false” statements, not just false ones.

  • OK LANGUAGE: A personal conduct rule that prohibits “profane or abusive language where the language used is uncivil, insulting, contemptuous, vicious or malicious.”


Clearly it is not clear what language is “safe” to use. Poorly drafted policies and handbooks can be a mine field of potential fines and liability. Workplace policies must be carefully drafted to avoid any appearance or interpretation that the employer is discouraging workplace organizing or even discussion among employees about work terms and conditions.


The Employment Source is knowledgeable in reviewing your employment policies to make certain you do not run afoul of the new interest the NLRB has in restricting language. Illinois and Iowa employers concerned about proper and legal employment policies are encouraged to contact us to review and update their employee handbook and workplace policies. At The Employment Source, we’ve got your back.


*First Transit Inc. and Amalgamated Transit Union Local #1433, AFL-CIO, 360 NLRB No. 72 (2014).




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