NLRB: employer policy may not prohibit negativity and gossip

by Walter Olson on June 4, 2014

In an April decision, the National Labor Relations Board found largely unlawful a hospital’s employee handbook policy as follows:

…11. We will not make negative comments about our fellow team members and we will take every opportunity to speak well of each other.

16. We will represent [the hospital] in the community in a positive and professional manner in every opportunity.

21. We will not engage in or listen to negativity or gossip. We will recognize that listening without acting to stop it is the same as participating.

The reason? Under NLRB doctrine, in both non-union and union workplaces, negative discussion of managers and other co-workers could count as “protected activities” linked to the potential for concerted labor action.

[Jon Hyman, Ohio Employer's Law Blog, on the April case of Hills & Dales General Hospital (PDF)]

{ 3 comments }

1 Boblipton 06.04.14 at 8:03 am

So sexist and racist language is simultaneously prohibited and protected?

We’ve broken right through “Everything that is not compulsory is forbidden” and come out on the other side.

Bob

2 Jason Wong 06.04.14 at 3:05 pm

No negative comments about our fellow team members in a hospital?

So, if someone makes a dumb mistake and injures a patient, you can’t comment about that? No reprimands?

3 Bill Poser 06.04.14 at 3:22 pm

I see a different problem with the hospital’s policy, namely that it is damaging to the safety of patients. Under the policy, an employee could be disciplined for commenting on such things as a surgeon’s high rate of complications or a nurses’s failure to wash her hands. Such comments may constitute gossip and lead to negativity, but they are essential if errors and substandard practices are to be minimized.

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