Archive for the ‘NLRB’ Category

The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) has changed the way that it will determine whether a mixed group made up of employees from a supplier employer and employees from a host employer may constitute an appropriate bargaining unit. In its July 11th Miller & Anderson, Inc. decision, the Board determined that the consent of both employers is no longer necessary. Instead, the Board will apply its standard community of interest test to determine if such a bargaining unit is appropriate.

In other words, temps employed by a personnel supplier company who work for a business and employees working only for that business will be able to vote on representation together if the two groups perform a similar kind work under similar conditions and have common supervision. Employers hiring temps should be aware that if temps make up a high enough percentage of the bargaining unit, the unit could unionize without any support from the permanent employees working directly for the host employer.

According to the Board, each employer will have an obligation to bargain only over the employees with whom it has an employment relationship and only in regard to the terms and conditions that the business has the authority to control. This means that the host business will have an obligation to bargain concerning the terms and conditions of employment for both the temps and its own regular employees in the bargaining unit, while the temp agency will only have an obligation to bargain with its temps, not the regular employees working alongside them. The business and the temp agency would then need to bargain with employees over the terms and conditions of employment that each employer could control.

This ruling overturns a 2004 decision by the Bush Board, known as Oakwood, and returns to the 2000 decision by the Clinton Board in M.B. Sturgis, which Oakwood had overturned. In Sturgis, the Board had reversed almost thirty years of clear precedent requiring mutual consent of both employers before employees of separate companies could be combined into a single bargaining unit.

The Miller & Anderson decision compounds the existing hazards of outsourcing labor to a temp agency created by the Board’s ruling in Browning-Ferris. In that case, the Board found that the presence of “indirect control” is enough to determine the existence of a joint employer relationship, a significant change from the previous requirement that an employer had to directly exercise its power over employees to establish a joint relationship. As Board member Philip Miscimarra noted in his Miller & Anderson dissent, “the majority’s expansion of Browning-Ferris here will only make it more difficult for parties to anticipate whether, when or where this new type of multi-employer/non-employer bargaining will be required by the Board, nor can anyone reasonably predict what it will mean in practice.” As a final note, given the Board’s predilection for reversing itself, both Browning Ferris and Miller & Anderson will have a short shelf life if the Board’s composition changes as a result of the November elections.

This article is intended to provide general information, not a specific legal opinion or advice. Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel. If you do not have legal counsel, please feel free to contact Harmon & Davies, P.C.

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Upon my arrival at the office this morning, after getting my coffee, I sat down at my computer and went to read BNA’s Daily Labor Report, as I do first thing almost every morning. After reading about the most recent actions in Congress seeking to block the NLRB’s Ambush Election Rules, I was attracted to an article that was entitled “English-Only Policy for Hospital Workers Violated Rights . . .” Since this is an issue that pops up regularly, I wanted to read the most recent case on the subject, so I opened the article and was surprised to find that this was an NLRB case, not an EEOC case. On March 18, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Lisa D. Thompson found that a Nevada health systems policy that required employees to speak English at all times when on duty violated Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act since it could restrict employees from engaging in discussions regarding terms and conditions of employment. The employer argued that its English only rule was based on guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that allowed such rules for reasons of business necessity.

Not surprisingly, ALJ Thompson noted that this was an issue of first impression for the National Labor Relations Board, since no prior Decision of the NLRB had ever addressed the issue. Quoting from the Decision, the rule specifically “requires all employees to speak and communicate only in English ‘when conducting business with each other,’ ‘when patients or customers are present or in close proximity,’ and ‘while on duty between staff, patients, visitors [and/or] customers . . . unless interpretation or translation is requested or required.’” In seeking the finding that the rule was a violation of the National Labor Relations Act, Counsel for the General Counsel (in layman’s parlance – the prosecutor) argued that the rule was overbroad and that it inhibited employees, particularly non-native English speaking employees, from being able to freely communicate (in their native language) about working conditions and/or other terms or conditions of employment. As noted, the employer’s defense was based, at least in part, on current EEOC guidance. Although the Administrative Law Judge gave the appearance of analyzing the potential tension between Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act and the EEOC Guidance, she dealt with this by quickly concluding that the employer’s rule was not justified by business necessity. With respect to the employer’s arguments that nothing in the rule prohibited employees from speaking in their own language on their own time, the Administrative Law Judge launched into a comparison of this rule with the Board’s traditional no-solicitation rule analysis.

Less surprisingly, the ALJ also found Employer rules prohibiting conduct that interferes with the Employer’s operations or brings “discredit” on the Employer, or making negative comments about co-workers or the hospital to be violative of the Act. Even though most Employers would consider these rules to be very reasonable, the Obama NLRB has been striking them down at a rapid rate.  Valley Health System 28-CA-123611

This case appears to represent yet another example of the NLRB’s willingness to expand the scope of its enforcement authority, even if it potentially conflicts with other administrative agencies. Accordingly, employers are advised yet again of the need to thoroughly review all of their existing rules and policies to avoid being found guilty of an unfair labor practice by the National Labor Relations Board.

This article is authored by attorney Thomas R. Davies and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice.  Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.


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Posted in NLRB, NLRB | Comments Off on Hospital’s English-Only Rule Declared Unlawful by NLRB – Y Porque ellos? (Who?)

The Color Purple: An Award Winning Film; A Scary NLRB Decision

The 1985 film The Color Purple received several awards, but, surprising to many, no Oscars. The recent NLRB Decision in Purple Communications, Inc. may be popular with organized labor, but the employer community would only give it a Razzie.

In this long-expected Decision, the National Labor Relations Board, by a 3-2 vote, reversed its 2007 Decision in Register Guard. In Purple Communications, the Board majority (comprised of the three Democrat members) established a presumption that all employees with email access have a right to use the Company’s email system for any activity protected by the National Labor Relations Act. This includes both union organizing activity and other “concerted” activity involving wages, benefits, or working conditions. Although the majority indicated that this presumption could be overcome if certain “special circumstances” were established, they failed to articulate what might constitute such special circumstances.

At a recent conference, member Harry Johnson (one of two Republican dissenters) commented upon the fact that some of his fellow Board members lacked technological savvy. In reaching their underlying conclusion that restrictions on the rights of employees to use the Company’s email system constituted an unreasonable impediment to their ability to engage in protected activity, the majority demonstrated this lack of tech savvy by failing to properly take into account the numerous alternatives which now exist, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.

Fortunately, the Decision is limited in that it applies only to the Company’s employees, not non-employees, it only applies to the use of the Company’s email system, not other forms of electronic communications maintained by the employer, it only applies to those employees who are already authorized to use the Company’s email system, and is subject to “reasonable” restrictions, such as being used only during “non-work times.”

Members Miscimarra and Johnson, in dissent, criticize not only the legal rationale for the Decision, but also point out the numerous issues which will be created by the presumption established by the majority. For example, they note the difficulty, if not virtual impossibility, of distinguishing between the use of email during work time and non-work time. They also point out that while the majority theoretically recognized the right – and in some cases – the need (such as when there is an allegation of harassment involving the use of email) for employers to monitor its employees’ use of email, they underestimate the risk that such monitoring could lead to unfair labor charges of surveillance.

It is important to note that this Decision applies to all employers, not only those who are unionized. It is incumbent upon every employer to review their current electronic communication policy and consider revising it so that it is in compliance with the new NLRB-established standards. Alternatively, since this Decision will likely be appealed (or reversed by a future Board), employers could wait and see what develops. It would certainly be risky, however, to discipline anyone based upon a policy that was not consistent with Purple Communications.

This article is intended to provide a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice. Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact Tom Davies, Esq. or Laura Gallagher, Esq., Harmon & Davies, P.C., at 291-2236.


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Joint Employer Status and the NLRB

Late last month, NLRB General Counsel Richard Griffin announced that he has authorized issuance of Unfair Labor Practice Complaints based on 43 of the 181 pending charges against McDonald’s, USA, LLC and various of its franchises, in which the Board will allege that the company and its franchisees are joint employers. This decision goes against decades of decisions and case law and could potentially be devastating to the franchise system as we know it. If upheld, the determination would bring McDonald’s (with its deep pockets) to the bargaining table in connection with a wide variety of employment related claims. The financial strength of McDonald’s would make forming a union more attractive to workers. McDonald’s, and other franchise chains, may also have to step up its policing of franchises and spend more time and money monitoring stores to prevent labor infractions.

This announcement comes as the NLRB, in an unrelated case involving Browning-Ferris Industries of California, is reviewing its standard for determining when businesses should be considered joint employers. Traditionally, to establish joint employer status, there must be a right to control. Both legally separate employers must have direction or ability to co-determine the hiring, termination, wages, hours or any other essential terms and conditions of employment. In the Browning-Ferris Industries case, the Teamsters sought to represent a bargaining unit of employees who it claimed were jointly employed by BFI and its staffing agency. The Regional Director, however, determined that the company and the staffing agency were not joint employers with respect to workers at one of the company owned recycling facilities because BFI did not exert sufficient control over the agency workers. The Teamsters sought review of this decision, which was granted by the NLRB, finding this as their opportunity to expand the test for establishing joint employer status. In a very unusual move, General Counsel Griffin filed an amicus brief urging the Board to adopt a new broader standard.

What this means for all businesses: This potential new standard for determining joint employer status may leave more employers liable for alleged labor law violations and potentially force more companies to come to the bargaining table. This possible new standard will affect every business that subcontracts or outsources any function. It seems that it may become futile to try to avoid joint employer status and, instead, companies need to investigate business practices to make sure that any other company they are in business with is doing everything as close to 100% correct as possible. In the alternative, companies may need to explore the option of eliminating the use of certain contractors completely.  At a minimum, the company should be sure to include a strong indemnification provision to hold the individual contractors or suppliers responsible for any liability suffered as a result of their noncompliance with legal responsibilities. Of course any such indemnification will be meaningful only if the other party has the financial resources to back it up.

This article is authored by attorney Lori L. Buntman and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice.  Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.


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Many of you may have attended 4th of July parties with fireworks as we celebrated our country’s birthday. While we want fireworks at a 4th of July party, you do not want them on your jobsite. But your friends in organized labor may have other ideas. At the dawn of the Obama administration in January 2009, we expected a significant push by organized labor to leverage its success in the 2008 elections to try to regain lost ground in terms of private sector union membership. Instead, the focus turned to healthcare and a number of issues that prevented the passage of laws like the Employee Free Choice Act that would have dramatically simplified union organizing. President Obama also made a mess through his recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board which, as of the writing, are before the Supreme Court with three lower courts having held them to be unconstitutional.

Now, however, contractors need to be aware of the fact that the stars are aligned in such a way that you should expect to see some type of union activity on your jobsites over the next several months. The NLRB is fully staffed with the most pro-union majority in its history. It is aggressively moving forward to give unions additional weapons to use on jobsites such as bannering, street theater and the ever popular large inflatable rat. The NLRB has also given unions almost complete control over the scope of the bargaining unit they can try to organize. It is expected that the Department of Labor will soon try to restrict the access of employers to effective legal representation in dealing with these types of issues. Since all of these administrative actions could be reversed with the election of a pro-business candidate in 2016, organized labor is ready to try to put the remaining days of the Obama administration to good use.

NOW is the time for you to learn about the variety of tactics unions might employ, where and how they might be utilized and what you can do to prepare for them. On Tuesday July 15, 2014 from 7:00am – 8:30am I will be presenting an interactive seminar on this topic. This session is designed for field superintendents, project managers and company executives. Don’t be caught unprepared!


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Posted in bannering, Construction, Construction Contracts, NLRB, NLRB, Union | No Comments »

National Labor Relations Board in the DC Circuit

The National Labor Relations Board has not been faring well in the DC Circuit recently. In January, in the Noel Canning case, the Court held that the President’s recess appointments to the NLRB were unconstitutional.  In May, the DC Circuit vacated the NLRB’s Notice Posting Rule, the implementation of which had been temporarily blocked.  Another challenge to the rule is pending in the Fourth Circuit.

Here is a link to the Decision –


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As you may know, in its Banner Health System decision issued in July 2012, the National Labor Relations Board found that the employer had violated the National Labor Relations Act by maintaining an overly broad rule requiring employees to maintain confidentiality during workplace investigations.  Many employers and employer groups expressed concern that the inability to maintain such rules could hamper their investigations of sensitive subjects such as harassment in the workplace.

Earlier this week, the National Labor Relations Board issued an Advice Memo that helped to clarify its position on this matter.  While an Advice Memo does not have the same precedential value as a decision of the Board itself, it does reflect the fact that General Counsel would not prosecute a case if the employer had followed the guidelines set forth in the Advice Memo.  In Verso Paper, NLRB Div. of Advice, No. 30-CA-89350, 1/29/13 [Released 4/16/13], the General Counsel’s office found that Verso’s existing rule in its code of employee conduct set forth below was overly broad.

“Verso has a compelling interest in protecting the integrity of its investigations.  In every investigation, Verso has a strong desire to protect witnesses from harassment, intimidation and retaliation, to keep evidence from being destroyed, to ensure that testimony is not fabricated, and to prevent a cover-up.  To assist Verso in achieving these objectives, we must maintain the investigation and our role in it in strict confidence.  If we do not maintain such confidentiality, we may be subject to disciplinary action up to and including immediate termination.”

As set forth in the Advice Memo, the above rule was found overly broad since it failed to meet the test set forth in Banner that requires the employer to demonstrate in each case that it has a legitimate and substantial business justification for confidentiality that outweighs employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act.  The Advice Memo went on, however, to specifically suggest alternative language that would be in compliance with the Banner rule.  The suggested revised language would replace the last two sentences of the rule set forth above with the following:

“Verso may decide in some circumstances that in order to achieve these objectives, we must maintain the investigation and our role in it in strict confidence.  If Verso reasonably imposes such a requirement and we do not maintain such confidentiality, we may be subject to disciplinary action up to and including immediate termination.”

In order to be able to lawfully enforce their confidentiality rules when the need arises, it is suggested that all employers review their existing rule and modify the language, if necessary, to mirror the NLRB’s suggested language.  If you need further information regarding this topic, please contact us at Harmon & Davies.

This article is authored by attorney Thomas R. Davies and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice.  Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.


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Homebuilder Battles NLRB over Arbitration Clause

National homebuilder, D.R. Horton, Inc. is embroiled in a legal battle with the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) over whether a provision in its employment contracts requiring its employees to engage in a mandatory arbitration agreement that waived the employees’ rights to participate in class or collective actions violated the employees federally protected right to engage in “concerted activity” for their mutual aid and protection.

The dispute arose when one of the homebuilder’s superintendents filed a charge with the NLRB alleging that he and other employees were prevented from pursuing claims that they were misclassified as exempt workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act by virtue of the homebuilder’s allegedly illegal dispute resolution procedure that blocked employees from pursuing class or colletive actions in court or in arbitration.  The NLRB sustained the charge and the case was appealed all the up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The case was argued before the Fifth Circuit earlier this month.  The NLRB’s attorney argued that the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) gives employees the right to engage in concerted activity for their mutual aid and protection and that the homebuilder’s broadly worded arbitration policy interfered with the opportunity of employees to obtain class or collective litigation of their employment-related claims in addition to their right to assert claims in a concerted manner.  The homebuilder’s attorney argued that never before has the NLRB found that the NLRA gives employees the right to engage in class or collective litigation and that the NLRA contains “no clear congressional mandate” making the dispute resolution procedure used by the homebuilder illegal.  According to the homebuilder’s attorney, vague references to concerted activity in NLRB decisions does not demonstrate a clear congressional mandate under the NLRA that would justify the court in denying the enforcement of an otherwise lawful arbitration agreement.  A decision is awaited.

The Fifth Circuit’s rulings could have a significant impact on how builders and employers in general draft their dispute resolution provisions.

This article is authored by attorney Shannon O. Young and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice. Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

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A National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) administrative law judge (commonly referred to as an ALJ) recently directed an employer to remove a provision from its social media policy that prohibited employees from using social media during “company time,” on the basis that such a prohibition violated employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).

In the EchoStar Technologies, LLC case, an employee challenged two provisions in the company’s updated employee handbook that related to the company’s social media policy.  Specifically, the employee challenged the prohibition against making disparaging or defamatory comments about the company and the prohibition against employees using social media with company resources during company time.

The employee argued that such prohibitions violated Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA, which bans employer interference with an employee’s Section 7 rights.  Section 7 of the NLRA protects employees’ rights to engage in unionization activities and the right of nonunion employees to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.  The NLRB general counsel’s office later filed a complaint in the case.

In ruling that both challenged provisions should be removed from the company’s employee handbook, the ALJ noted that this case centered around whether a reasonable employee would view the company’s social media policy as chilling unionization activities or other protected concerted activities.  The test for making such a determination is whether an employee’s Section 7 rights “suffered a reduction or inhibition” as a result of the policy.  This test is applied with the reasonable person standard, meaning the determination considers how a reasonable person would react to the prohibition, not whether the employees involved actually felt threatened.

The ALJ struck down the ruling banning “disparaging comments” on social media sites on the grounds that it was similar to another case where the NLRB did not allow a rule prohibiting “derogatory” comments about the employer.  In Southern Maryland Hospital Center, 293 N.L.R.B. 1209, 132 LRRM 1031 (1989), the NLRB explained that such a ban is problematic because “an assertion that an employer overworks or underpays its employees, which would constitute the most elementary kind of union propaganda, could fairly be regarded as ‘derogatory’ toward the employer.”  Accordingly, in EchoStar, the ALJ held that the prohibition against disparaging comments intruded on employees’ Section 7 activities and ordered the prohibition removed from the employee handbook.

Unfortunately, the ruling in EchoStar did not shed much light on why the ALJ struck down the employer’s prohibition against the use of social media on company time.  Nevertheless, the ALJ made it clear that such a ban also needed to be removed from the employer’s handbook.  We can only surmise that the ALJ agreed with the general counsel’s argument that essentially said the ban was too broad because it could be interpreted as prohibiting employees from participating in social media activities through their own devices and during their breaks, lunch, and before and after work.  Notably, the general counsel’s office pointed out that the phase “company time” is ambiguous and had already been found to be problematic in other cases because it does not let employees know that protected activities may occur on breaks, during lunch and before or after work.  Although the employer argued that it had a huge problem with employees using social media for personal matters during work hours its argument was to no avail.

Lesson for Employers:  Social media policies raise a host of issues.  Because overly broad restrictions on employees’ social media use might be deemed to violate the NLRA, employers should seek the assistance of an attorney when crafting their social media policy.  The attorneys at Harmon & Davies, P.C. are here to assist you with all such needs.

This article is authored by attorney Shannon O. Young and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice. Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

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