Bite Your Tongue: NLRB Rules That Produce Company’s Media, Confidentiality Policies are Lawful

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Written by Jonathan Turner

The NLRB under the current administration continues to issue decisions that factor in legitimate business considerations of employers when evaluating rules that are alleged to restrict employee protections under the NLRA.  One such recently issued decision, LA Specialty Produce Company, 368 NLRB No. 93 (October 10, 2019), may have particular significance to many of MSK’s clients because it addresses an important issue on which we frequently have consulted with clients in the past — restrictions on communications responsive to inquiries from the media.

The restriction at issue in the LA Specialty case provided as follows:

“Employees approached for interview and/or comments by the news media, cannot provide them with any information. Our President, Michael Glick, is the only person authorized and designated to comment on Company policies or any event that may affect our organization.”

The Board’s general counsel issued a complaint alleging that the rule in its entirety violated the NLRA because it purportedly chilled employees from exercising their section 7 rights under the NLRA, including the right to discuss work issues publicly when asked to comment by the press.  The administrative law judge found the rule to be overly broad, and therefore unlawful, because on its face it could be construed to cover NLRA-protected activities; however, the Board disagreed with this reading of the rule.  While the Board recognized that the first sentence of the rule, standing alone, might suggest that employees may never speak to the news media when approached for comment, it concluded that an objectively reasonable employee would understand that the second sentence qualified the first sentence by explaining that only the company president was authorized and designated to comment on company matters. Thus, read as a whole, a reasonable employee would understand that he or she is only precluded from speaking on behalf of the employer when approached for comment.

The Board also designated this rule as a “category 1” rule under the principles announced by the Board in Boeing Co., a Board decision that was issued in December of 2017. “Category 1” rules include rules the Board designates as lawful, either because (i) the rule, when reasonably interpreted, does not prohibit or interfere with the exercise of NLRA rights; or (ii) the potential adverse impact on protected rights is outweighed by justifications associated with the rule.  See our client alert here.  Since there is no Section 7 right to speak to the media on behalf of the employer, the Board concluded that the employer’s media contact restriction, when reasonably interpreted, would not potentially interfere with the exercise of Section 7 rights.

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