- Friday, 18 April 2014 18:58
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in the USA is tackling vague “no gossip” policies. It is part of a focused effort to prevent employers from violating sections of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Their concern centers on employers who maintain overly broad “no gossip” policies and suspend and terminate employees for violating ambiguous policy.
At the heart of the controversy was Joslyn Henderson, who, in 2007, was an admissions representative at Laurus Technical Institute. At the time, the employee filed a sexual harassment and retaliation suit with the EEOC against her employer; however, during the investigation of the incident, the employer reprimanded the employee for speaking to a manager outside her “chain of command.” Ms. Henderson was told she could not discuss the suit or any of the alleged events with anyone other than her direct supervisor, the HR director or the CEO.
The technical institute then implemented a “no gossip policy,” stating such personal and unprofessional communication would not be tolerated that employees found to be “gossiping” would be disciplined. Their definition of gossip included “talking about someone’s personal life when he wasn’t present; talking about a person’s professional life without a supervisor being present; making negative, untrue, or disparaging comments about other people; and creating, sharing, or repeating rumors about others.”
Some time later, the technical institute replaced several admissions representatives and the HR director. Ms. Henderson and other remaining co-workers discussed the situation and their concern for their continued employment. When she took medical leave, her supervisor was told she had solicited employees to leave the institute and instigated a work slow-down. When she returned to deal with an issue about her medical leave she was suspended. Soon after, her employment was terminated for “willful breach of company policies and counter-productive behavior,” including violating the no-gossip policy.
But the NLRB Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determined the “no gossip” policy violated the NLRA because it prohibited employees from speaking to co-workers about discipline and other terms and conditions of employment.
According to the ALJ: “A thorough reading of this vague, overly-broad policy reveals that it narrowly prohibits virtually all communications about anyone, including the company or its managers. In fact, read literally, this rule would preclude both negative and positive comments about a person’s personal or professional life unless that person and/or his/her supervisor are present.”
Since the NLRB is expanding its role (even into non-union settings) to protect employees from policies that are overly broad or too ambiguous, is it time for “no gossip” policies to be scrapped? Were they ever realistic or enforceable in the first place?
(Reprinted from Linked-In HR Group)
MEMORABLE QUOTES ABOUT GOSSIP
Show me someone who never gossips, and I'll show you someone who isn't interested in people.
No one gossips about other people's secret virtues. --Bertrand Russell
The only time people dislike gossip is when you gossip about them. --Will Rogers
If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me. --Alice Roosevelt Longworth