On Epstein Becker Green’s Management Memo blog, Steven M. Swirsky reviews the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB”) recent decision regarding Bergdorf Goodman’s New York Store’s women’s shoe sales employees.

Following is an excerpt from the blog post:

The NLRB finds that the women’s shoe sales employees at Bergdorf Goodman’s New York Store are not an appropriate unit for bargaining. The Board’s unanimous decision to reverse the Regional Director’s finding that the shoe sales team did constitute an appropriate unit and could have their own vote on union representation comes one week after its decision finding that a unit limited to the cosmetics and fragrance sales employees at a Macy’s in Saugus were an appropriate unit for bargaining. The Regional Directors who issued the Decisions and Directions of Election in Macy’s and Bergdorf Goodman each had relied on the Board’s Specialty Health Care decision, which is now often referred to as the “Micro Unit” decision.

To access the full blog post, please click here.

On Epstein Becker Green’s OSHA Law Update blog, Eric Conn reviews the agreement between the NLRB and OSHA, which allows employees to file out-of-date safety related whistleblower claims to be filed with the NLRB.

Following is an excerpt from the blog post:

On May 21, 2014, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) published a memorandum discussing a new agreement between NLRB and OSHA regarding a backdoor route for employees to file safety related whistleblower claims that are too stale to be filed with OSHA. The NLRB memo directs OSHA representatives to “notify all complainants who file an untimely [OSHA] whistleblower charge of their right to file a charge with the NLRB.” As a result of this agreement, employers should expect an increase in the number of unfair labor practice claims filed by employees alleging retaliation for protected safety related whistleblower activity.

To access the full blog post, please click here.


By: Adam C. Abrahms, Kara M. Maciel, Steven M. Swirsky, and Mark M. Trapp

The U.S. Supreme Court today held that the US Senate was not in recess on January 4, 2012, when President Obama made three “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board under the Constitution’s Recess Appointment Clause. In simple terms that means that the recess appointments were not proper and decisions in which the recess appointees participated were not valid.

What this now means is that hundreds of cases decided by the NLRB following the January 4, 2012 recess appointments to the Board from January 4, 2012 until the Senate confirmed the current Board members who joined the NLRB as of August 12, 2013, were unconstitutionally decided because the Board lacked a quorum and could not decide cases or issue orders. Additionally, while Noel Canning concerned the January 2012 recess appointments, there is also doubt as to earlier decisions in which previous recess appointees participated going back to August 2011.

The Court’s decision upheld the January 2013 decision of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit which found that the panel of the NLRB that had previously decided an unfair labor practice case against Noel Canning, a Pepsi bottler, was unconstitutionally constituted and therefore the decision was invalid. There the DC Circuit held that because the Senate, whose advice and consent is required for appointments to the NLRB had not been in recess when the President made his appointments, the company’s “understanding of the constitutional provision is correct, and the Board’s is wrong. The Board had no quorum, and its order is void.” The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit had also reached a similar conclusion concerning the lack of a quorum due to the Senate not having been in recess when the January 2012 appointments were made.

This decision now casts into doubt and makes suspect more than 1,300 NLRB decisions, including both published and unpublished, issued by the NLRB. An excellent summary of the cases that are implicated by the Court’s decision, and the issues involved in each has been prepared by the US Chamber of Commerce Litigation Center.

The Court’s holding, which found that the Senate was not in recess while it was conducting pro forma sessions during December 2012, arose in the context of a challenge to a Board Order in which recess appointees participated; the implications however are far greater and may implicate a wide range of other Board actions such as the appointment of Regional Directors, the consolidation of Regional offices and other administrative and personnel actions requiring Board approval or authorization. Notably, in a case decided by a District Court in the Eastern District of Washington last August an employer successfully challenged not only the Board’s authority to authorize a Regional Director to pursue an injunction under Section 10 (j) of the National Labor Relations Act, but the appointment of then Acting NLRB General Counsel Lafe Solomon, who was then a recess appointee. That case turned on other provisions of the Pay Act, a federal law authorizing the payment of salary to properly appointed recess appointees.

In a relatively understated press release following the Court’s decision, Board Chair Mark Gaston Pearce emphasized the fact that “the National Labor Relations Board has a full contingent of five Senate-confirmed members who are prepared to fulfill our responsibility to enforce the National Labor Relations Act.”

What this means to Employers, Unions and Others With Cases Before the NLRB

If the Board’s actions following the Supreme Court’s decision concerning an earlier attempt by the NLRB to delegate its decision making authority to a two member panel in the face of earlier disputes between the President and the Senate is any precedent, it is likely that at least three members of the current five member Senate confirmed Board will try to essentially adopt and approve as many as possible of the Board Orders and actions that would be invalid under Noel Canning. As shown in the Chamber’s chart, there are a large number of cases that are essentially on hold in Courts of Appeal across the country that have been waiting for the Court’s ruling today. It is likely that the courts will dismiss these matters or that the NLRB will seek to withdraw those in which it is seeking enforcement of Board Orders.

However, as we and others have pointed out since the issue of the 2012 and earlier recess appointments were placed in doubt, employers and others with matters before the Board, the most prudent course of action would have been to make sure that in addition to any other defenses or grounds for appeal, that parties specifically raise the issue that the Board lacked a quorum and the authority to act when it made decisions, issued orders and took other action. However even in those cases that were decided by the Board during the period that it lacked a proper quorum, parties may be able to raise the lack of quorum argument in light of today’s decision. Each matter will require an analysis based on its own individual facts and issues.

Additionally, today’s ruling has broad impact even in cases which are currently being investigated at the Regional level or are currently pending before the Board. Not only can we expect even further delay in Board action (including at the Regional level) as the agency attempts to deal with the backlog created by having to address hundreds cases directly impacted by the Decision. Specifically, there are thousands of cases which are currently being prosecuted or advanced at various stages which explicitly or tangentially rely on theories or precedents relying on a now invalid Board decision. Specifically, cases involving at-will employment agreements, arbitration agreements, employee investigations, employee access, dues deductions post-contract expiration, and bargaining over employee discipline have all now been stripped of much of the precedence on which a Region, a union or an employee may be relying. Again each matter will require an analysis based on its own individual facts and issues.

Management Missives

  • If the “invalid” Board issued a decision impacting an employer it should promptly analyze its options;
  • If an employer has a case in abeyance or pending based on Noel Canning it should obviously expect action in the coming weeks;
  • Employers should look for settlement opportunities with Regions, unions and individuals which may be present as these adverse parties may be more amendable to now that the theory of the case now lacks valid authority or based on their increased workloads;
  • Employers should explore filing supplemental position statements or other filings in any case where a Region, union or employee is relying on an “invalid” decision;
  • Employers should still remain cautious as while many decisions have been put into question, the current composition of the Board provides absolutely no reason for employers to rejoice or be less vigilant, as the current, lawfully confirmed, Board is unlikely to view most issues any differently.

For 2 days, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) heard from speakers on its proposed rules to accelerate the processing of union representation petitions and quicken the timing of elections. The speakers ranged from several labor unions, including the UFCW, SEIU, CWA and AFL-CIO as well as a number of trade associations, including National Federation of Independent Businesses, Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and EBG client, National Grocers Association (NGA). The positions of the parties were largely split between the labor unions applauding the NLRB’s proposed rule on making elections faster; whereas, the trade associations and management attorneys emphasizing that the NLRB’s proposed rule was unnecessary and a solution in search of a problem.

EBG attorney, Kara M. Maciel, represented the voice of NGA on three separate panels. First, she argued that the NLRB’s proposed rule requiring employers – for the first time – to submit a written position statement within 7 days of the union’s petition setting forth the employer’s entire legal argument, or risk waiver later, is unduly burdensome and risks that the process leading to a pre-election hearing will become more adversarial and less focused on reaching a negotiated pre-election stipulation. Under current procedures, over 90% of petitions are stipulated to without a pre-election hearing, but under the NLRB’s proposed rule, employers could feel pressured to go to a hearing in light of the written position statement requirement.

Second, Maciel testified that the election date should not be accelerated from the current 34 day median to 10-21 days contemplated by the rule. “Hasty decisions are not good decisions” and she noted that “common sense dictates that the greater the time an individual has to inform himself, and to reflect upon and consider all aspects of a decision, the more likely the decision will be a true reflection of the individual’s interests.” NGA is concerned about the due process rights impairing an employer’s protected 8(c) rights under the National Labor Relations Act if there is not sufficient time to communicate with employees about a union petition for representation.

Finally, Maciel expressed concern over the proposed rules compulsory disclosure of employee’s personal and confidential e-mail accounts and phone numbers on voter lists. The non-consensual disclosure constitutes a gross invasion of employees’ privacy and opens employees up to potential use and abuse of their personal information.

The NLRB will now consider all the written and oral comments submitted by the public on the proposed rules; however, it is widely expected that the NLRB will adopt the rules as proposed. Following the rule-making process, it is likely that trade associations could seek to enjoin implementation of the rule through a court challenge. In the meantime, all employers should brace themselves for the rule and implement training and education for their management team on how to respond to union organizing.

For more information on NLRB’s two-day public meeting, please click here.

Our colleague Kara Maciel will speak on behalf of EBG client, National Grocers Association (“NGA”), at the National Labor Relations Board’s public meeting, scheduled for April 10-11, 2014 regarding the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) on the “ambush election” representation procedures.

The panels will address the following topics:

  • Panel B.2: Requirement for written statement of position
    Address issues related to the proposed requirement for a written statement of position.
  • Panel E.1 & E.3: Election date
    Please describe the standard to be applied for scheduling an election. The proposed rules state that the regional director should select an election date which is “as soon as practicable.” If you disagree with this standard, please describe the standard you would apply. Specify whether you think the rules should include a minimum or maximum time between the filing of the petition and the election, and, if so, how long this time should be. Also address whether the proposed rules adequately protect free speech interests; if you believe they do not, please state specifically how the proposal can be adapted to adequately address the matter.
  • Panel C: Voter lists
    Address whether or how the rules should address voter lists.

During the open meeting, April 10 and 11, catch the live stream at http://www.nlrb.gov/openmeeting.

By Steven M. Swirsky, Adam C. Abrahms, Kara M. Maciel and Casey M. Cosentino

As previously predicted by the Management Memo on August 1, 2013 and October 30, 2013, the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) issued a second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to amend its existing rules and regulations governing union elections procedures. If they look familiar when you see them, there is a good reason for that: you have seen them before.

As readers of the Management Memo are well aware, the NPRM is the latest development in the long saga of organized labor’s attempts to “fix” the representation election process in its favor. Most significantly, the Board’s current attempt only comes after having its more modest 2011 attempt struck down by a federal judge.

The present proposal is identical “in substance” to the Board’s original proposals first contemplated on June 22, 2011, and as such are more aggressive than the Rules ultimately adopted on December 21, 2011, and later struck down. The Board claims the proposed amendments are necessary to, among other things, facilitate the swift resolutions of questions concerning representation, simplify representation-case procedures, eliminate needless litigation, and consolidate all requests for review of regional directors’ determinations into one post-election request. However, if adopted as written, the proposed rules will radically up-end 75 years of Board practice and make it considerably easier for unions to organize employees and win elections.

History of Proposed Rule

The Board first contemplated the proposed amendments in a notice of proposed rulemaking on June 22, 2011. Following a period of public comment, the Board issued a final rule on December 22, 2011, that adopted some of the proposed amendments but deferred other more controversial aspects of the proposed amendments for further consideration. The final rule was immediately challenged in federal court. See Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. v. NLRB, 879 F. Supp. 2d 18, 21, 24 (D.D.C. 2012). In May 2012, the D.C. District Court struck down the final rule on procedural grounds. In response, the Board suspended the implementation of changes to its election representation case process.

Proposed Amendments to the Election Procedure

To the favor of unions, the proposed amendments announced this week would significantly change the existing procedures for union elections in the following ways:

  • Permit electronic filing of election petitions.
  • Require pre-election hearings to be held within 7 days after a hearing notice is served, shortening the time period between the petition and election.
  • Require employers to file a detailed statement of position on any and all issues involved in the petition before the hearing commences (i.e., within 7 days of first receiving notice of the petition). Failure to present an issue in the statement would constitute waiver of the issue in all future proceedings.
  • Grant hearing officers the authority to limit the issues to be heard at the hearing, depriving employers of their ability to litigate valid legal/factual positions prior to an election.
  • Defer resolution of voter-eligibility issues to post-election challenges until after an election, replacing the longstanding practice of having a pre-election hearing to determine such issues. This will allow unions to claim that some supervisors should be included in the bargaining unit, which could prevent an employer from utilizing them in the campaign to communicate its own position to the employees they supervise.
  • Grant hearing officers the authority to deny an employer the ability to file a post-hearing brief.
  • Eliminate an employer’s ability to seek Board review of a Regional Director’s rulings, which would also reduce the time between the petition and election.
  • Shorten the time for holding an election to as early as 10 days after the Regional Director’s direction of election (down from the typical 25 to 30 day minimum that now exists)
  • Require an employer to provide the NLRB with the list of voters’ names and addresses within 2 days after the Regional Director’s direction of an election instead of 7 days.
  • Require employers to provide the phone numbers and email addresses of all eligible voters as well as specifying each employee’s work location, shift, and classification. Currently, employers must only provide name and mailing address to the NLRB, which it then provides to the union. Since unions will use be able to use this information during the days before the election, it is feared that instances of organizers harassing and coercing employees will significantly increase.
  • Grant the Board discretion to deny review of post-election rulings. Currently, the Board is required to decide post-election disputes.

The Board’s False Pretenses and True Intended Harm of “Ambush” Elections

The Board asserts these election “fixes” are necessary to address alleged long delays in the representation process; however, such delays are rare. To the extent that the NPRM seeks to address election delays, objective data of NLRB elections conducted between 2008 and 2010 shows that such delays occurred less than 10 percent of the time. In fact, currently median time between petition and election is only 38 days and almost all elections occur within 56 days. The Board’s current proposal, however, could shorten that period to 10 to 21 days, which essentially eliminates the ability for employers to make a full and meaningful presentation of their position or employees to make a truly informed choice.

Typically, union organizers campaign under the radar for months before a petition is filed and unions wait until they believe that they have the support of the majority of the employees in a unit before they file a petition. Shortening the election period so drastically will erode an employer’s ability to respond to the union’s propaganda and communicate its position on union representation. Employees will vote without having the benefit of hearing the employer’s position. This contravenes the express purpose of the Act, which is to protect employee rights— not union rights and would gut the right that employers are granted by the Act to communicate their positions to employees. This one-sided campaign will almost certainly result in more election victories for unions and less real choice for employees.

Management Missives

It is with intention that the Board’s proposed rules will significantly alter the entire union representation election process in favor of unions. Although it is a proposed rule at this point, and the Board will be accepting public comment through April 7, 2014, with a public hearing that same week, it is likely that the final rule will be issued not long thereafter. To prepare for the Board’s “ambush” election rules, employers should promptly adopt any or all of the following strategies:

  • Examine your workforce for potential vulnerability to union organizing, including wage and hour violations or uncompetitive wages or benefits.
  • Review and update workplace policies that become relevant during union organizing such as solicitation/distribution, electronic communications, and social media.
  • Assess your workforce for potential bargaining unit issues like identifying who are supervisors and which employees share a “community of interest.”
  • Train your managers and supervisors on recognizing early warning signs of union organizing and responding lawfully to union campaigns.
  • Contact legal counsel with any questions or for any assistance with ensuring you are prepared to respond to an organizing campaign consistent with the proposed rules.


By: Adam C. Abrahms

Yesterday, in his first public address since being confirmed by the Senate, NLRB Board Member Kent Y. Hirozawa shared with the attendees of EBG’s 32nd Annual Client Labor and Employment Briefing his views on the current Board and what to expect from it.

His address, coming the day before Halloween, had all the “BEWARE” foreshadowing of a good ghost story; unfortunately for employers, the potential horrors may not be tricks or treats.

Board Poised For an Active and Productive 2014

As we noted here, when Hirozawa was confirmed as part of a package deal in July the Board had its first full complement of 5 confirmed members in over a decade. During his address Hirozawa explained how important it is for the Board to have confirmed members as it provides them a greater ability to efficiently and freely issue decisions without disruptions. He also noted that having a full complement of 5 members enables the Board to be 67% more productive.

Although acknowledging that the new Board has needed some time to get up to speed, something certainly not helped by the government shut down, Hirozawa asserted it is now poised for action. Hirozawa commented that the Board has a large backlog and that the Board is committed to reducing it quickly. He made it clear to the audience in attendance that there were cases in the pipeline and that parties and practitioners should expect the decisions to start issuing.

Given its current composition, an active and productive Board is likely not a good thing for employers.

Hirozawa Discloses Board Agenda

Hirozawa’s remarks went on to discuss the areas where the Board was likely to focus in the coming months and into 2014. Specifically, he noted that Chairman Pearce was likely to drive the Board back towards rule-making. As we discussed here and here, the Board has previously attempted to impose a requirement that employers post a Notice of Emplooyee Rights but the rule was rejected by the Courts. A new fully confirmed Board may take another stab at it.

Hirozawa specifically noted that the Board is likely to readdress election procedure regulations. Although Hirozawa did not talk is such terms, the attendees understood this meant that the so called “Ambush Election” may be on the horizon again. As readers will recall the Board’s last attempt at streamlining the election proceduce was invalidated on a technicality. Again, now with a fully confirmed, and arguably more pro-labor, Board, employers need to beware of what new election regulations might look like.

In addition to rule-making, according to Hirozawa, the Board is likely to continue addressing (and likely expanding on) the same issues that plagued employers under the unconstitutionally consisted Board of the last couple years. Specifically, Hirozawa noted that the Board is likely to issue more rulings on asserted infringements on Section 7 rights in arbitration agreements under D.R. Horton, Inc. and work rules like at-will, off-duty access, social media, confidentiality and other policies. In fact, the clear implication was that the Board very well may find even more categories of seemingly benign employer policies which “chill” or interfere with an employee’s exercise of Section 7 rights.

Ultimately, Hirozawa’s first public address established him as firmly in control of his new role, informed and engaged, however, it also made clear that employers could expect an active and likely unfriendly 2014 from the Board.

Management Missive

  • Employers should expect the frequency of Board decisions to pick significantly in the coming months and those with cases pending should be prepared to receive their ruling sooner than they may have expected.
  • With NLRB rule-making back on the front-burner, non-union employers should examine their union avoidance strategies and programs and explore proactively inoculating against organizing before the rules shift even more in favor of labor.
  • All employers should take a close look at their policies and work rules from a Section 7 perspective.

by: Adam C. Abrahms and Steven M. Swirsky

On July 30th the Senate confirmed career union lawyer Kent Hirozawa (D) and retired AFL-CIO Associate General Counsel Nancy Schiffer (D) as well as seasoned management labor lawyers Philip Miscimarra (R) and Harry Johnson (R) to serve on the National Labor Relations Board. The Senate also confirmed current NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce (D).

The confirmations are of course the result of the Senate Republicans backing down in the face of the threat by Senate Democrats to change Senate rules so that they could force a vote, up or down, on President Obama’s nominations for the Board and other positions. The “deal”, inspired by the threat, included the withdrawal of President Obama’s nomination of his recess appointees, Sharon Block and Richard Griffin , whose appointments were held unconstitutional recess. The President, however, merely replaced Block and Griffin with Hirozawa and Miscimarra, and only after consultation with and approval from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Organized Labor.

So with the first fully confirmed five member Board in ten years, the question for employers is now what? Unfortunately the answer is it is probably going to get worse.

As noted Hirozawa spent most of his career representing unions, most recently with New York labor-side firm Gladstein, Reif & Meginniss. For the past three years he served as chief counsel to NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce. One of his key undertakings in that post involved preparing for the implementation of the Board’s “ambush election rules,” which would have seriously impacted the ability of employers to communicate and campaign in representation elections. Unfortunately, based on his three years at the Board it seems Hirozawa may never have stopped being an advocate for organized labor’s agenda, reportedly working directly on the Board’s invalidated Ambush Election Rules and Notice Posting. This is of course is in addition to the numerous employer-unfriendly decisions Pearce participated in while Hirozawa was his chief counsel.

Schiffer’s background brings no more welcome news to employers. Before working directly for the AFL-CIO, Schiffer spent almost twenty years as counsel for the United Auto Workers. She may be best known for her advocacy on the Employer Free Choice Act and similarly advocating that employer’s free speech and Section 8(c) rights should be limited and union’s should be provided additional organizing rights.

Hirozawa and Schiffer join Pearce who, prior to being appointed to the Board in 2010, was also a partner at a firm representing unions. The three former union lawyers will now constitute a majority of the fully confirmed Board. During the Senate floor debate Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) questioned their ability to be impartial, stating “I’m not persuaded… that they’re able to transfer their position of advocacy to positions of judge, that they can be impartial when employers come before them.”

If the Senator’s fears are right, employers are actually in a worse position than they were under the recess appointments. Obviously, any new Board decisions cannot be challenged under Noel Canning. Substantively, there is every reason to believe that the new Board will continue the same pro-union agenda that has plagued employers and often defies common sense. The fully confirmed Board may even feel more emboldened to expand union rights and restrict employers’ ability to run their businesses.

By Adam C. Abrahms and Steven M. Swirsky

In another major defeat for President Obama’s appointees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board), the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit found that the Board lacked the authority to issue a 2011 rule which would have required all employers covered by the National Labor Relations Act (the “Act”), including those whose employees are not unionized, to post a workplace notice to employees. The putative Notice, called a “Notification of Employee Rights Under the National Labor Relations Act,” is intended to ostensibly inform employees of their rights to join and be represented by unions and to engage in other activity protected by the Act. The rule would also have made it an unfair labor practice for an employer to fail to post the required notice and such failure also could be considered proof of anti-union animus in other Board proceedings.

Although proposed in 2011 and scheduled to become effective on April 30, 2012, the requirement has yet been put into effect. As we discussed previously, last year, the US District Court for the District of Columbia had held that the Board lacked the authority to make it an unfair labor practice for an employer to fail to post the notice, holding that this exceeded the Board’s authority under the Act. Just prior to the rule going into effect, the DC Court of Appeals issued an emergency injunction in support of the District Court’s opinion and the NLRB opted to not enforce the rule pending the appeal.

Perhaps what is most noteworthy about the Court’s recent opinion, authored by Senior Circuit Judge Randolph, is the Court’s reliance on employers’ free speech rights which are protected by Section 8(c) of the Act. That section of the Act ensures employers the right to communicate their views concerning unions to their employees. The Court noted that while Section 8(c) “precludes the Board from finding non coercive employer speech to be an unfair labor practice, or evidence of an unfair labor practice, the Board’s rule does both.” That is because under the rule an employer’s failure to post the required notice would constitute an unfair labor practice and the Board’s rule would have allowed the Board to “consider an employer’s ‘knowing and willful’ noncompliance to be ‘evidence of anti union animus in cases in which unlawful motive [is] an element of an unfair labor practice.”

The Court focused on the question of the right of employers to “free speech,” under both Section 8(c) of the Act and under the First Amendment to the Constitution, noting that the rule would have required employers to disseminate information and that “the right to disseminate another’s speech necessarily includes the right to decide not to disseminate it,” relying on analysis from prior Supreme Court and appellate court decisions which it referred to as “compelled speech” cases.

Interestingly, the Court’s conclusion that the Board’s rule violates Section 8(c) because it makes an employer’s failure to post the Board’s notice an unfair labor practice, and because it treats such a failure as evidence of anti-union animus, suggests the Board might be able to find an alternate route to a notice posting requirement if it did not seek to create such a remedy for an employer’s failure to post the notice. However, the Court refused to leave the portion of the Board’s rule requiring the Notice posting in effect even without the enforcement and remedial provisions, because they were an inherent part of the Board’s purpose in adopting the rule. For now the beleaguered Board will need to decide whether it wishes to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court, attempt to craft a new rule with the currently constituted Board that this same Court of Appeals has ruled was unconstitutionally appointed in its Noel Canning decision or postpone any action until a new Board is confirmed by the Senate.

By: Jill Barbarino and Steven M. Swirsky

In a recent decision involving social media posts by non-union employees, as well as employer rules prohibiting the sharing of information about compensation among co-workers and with non-employees, the NLRB affirmed the findings and proposed remedy recommended by a Board Administrative Law Judge,  holding that the Facebook posts of three employees of an upscale clothing boutique in San Francisco constituted protected activity under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act and the termination of the employees’ for the posts was an unfair labor practice under Section 8(a)(1) of the Act.

Significantly, a unanimous three member panel found that the Facebook posts were a “continuation” of the employees’ effort to present their concerns about safety and other working conditions to their employer, the postings were “complaints among employees about the conduct of their supervisor as it related to their terms and conditions of employment and about management’s refusal to address the employees’ concerns,” and even without the related activity of the employees at work, “the Facebook postings would have constituted protected activity in and of themselves.”

Not only did the Board order the employer to rescind the portions of its employee handbook that the Board found violated the Act as it applied at the location where the charging party and her co-workers had been employed, the Board also agreed with the General Counsel that the employer be ordered to rescind and replace the rules in question on a company-wide basis, explaining why it was doing so to all of its employees.

The employer, Design Technology Group, LLC, d/b/a Bettie Page Clothing, is a wholesale and retail clothing sales company with operations in several states, including an upscale women’s clothing store in San Francisco. Shortly after that store opened, an employee, Holli Thomas, asked both the owner of Bettie Page and the store’s manager, whether the store could close at 7 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. because employees working late at night were being harassed by people on the street after tourists had left the neighborhood and were concerned about their safety. Following a disagreement with the store manager about the request, Thomas, and two other employees, Vanessa Morris and Brittany Johnson, engaged in the following conversation on Facebook:

Holli Thomas – needs a new job. I’m physically and mentally sickened.

Vanessa Morris – It’s pretty obvious that my manager is as immature as a person can be and she proved that this evening even more so. I’m am [sic] unbelievably stressed out and I can’t believe NO ONE is doing anything about it! The way she treats us in [sic] NOT okay but no one cares because everytime [sic] we try to solve conflicts NOTHING GETS DONE!!

Holli Thomas – bettie page would role over in her grave.

Vanessa Morris: She already is girl!

Holli Thomas – 800 miles away yet she’s still continues our lives miserable. Phenomenal!

Vanessa Morris – And no one’s doing anything about it! Big surprise!

Brittany Johnson – “bettie page would roll over in her grave.” I’ve been thinking the same thing for quite some time.

Vanessa Morris – hey dudes it’s totally cool, tomorrow I’m bringing a California Worker’s Rights book to work. My mom works for a law firm that specializes in labor law and BOY will you be surprised by all the crap that’s going on that’s in violation 8) [sic] see you tomorrow!

Six days after the posts, Thomas and Morris were terminated. Johnson was terminated about a month later.

The Board agreed with the ALJ that Thomas and Morris were engaged in “protected concerted activity when they presented concerns of the employees about working late in an unsafe neighborhood to their supervisor and to the Respondent’s owner and that their Facebook postings were a continuation of that effort.”

The Board went even further to hold that “the Facebook postings would have constituted protected concerted activity in and of themselves” because the postings were “complaints among employees about the conduct of their supervisor as it related to their terms and conditions of employment and about management’s refusal to address the employees’ concerns.”

Finally, the Board held that the conversation about looking at a book relating to California labor law was “classic concerted protected activity” because the conversation related to the “mutual aid and protection” of employees.

The Board also rejected Bettie Page’s argument that the posts were a scheme to entrap Bettie Page into firing them. The Board stated that this argument lacked evidentiary support and even if the employees had posted the comments in the hope that they would be discharged, Bettie Page failed to establish that such conduct was not protected activity under the Act.

In addition, the Board agreed with the ALJ that the provision in Bettie Page’s handbook stating that “[d]isclosure of wages or compensation to any third party or other employee is prohibited and grounds for termination” should be rescinded.  The Board also ordered Bettie Page to post a company-wide notice regarding the unlawful handbook provision because the policy had applied not only to Bettie Page’s San Francisco store at issue in the case, but to all other store locations.

This decision evidences the Board’s recent, aggressive approach to social media posts of employees discussing workplace concerns, as well as the application of the NLRA to non-union employees.

In deciding whether to terminate, discipline, or take adverse action against an employee for social media postings, employers must carefully review whether the employee’s conversations, comments, or posts may constitute protected concerted activity under the NLRA.

Click here for additional information on the Board’s position on social media issues.