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Employee Handbooks

Employee Handbooks | Michigan HR Blog | Sage Solutions Group - Generic_Handbook_Graphic

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has increased its attention and focus on employee handbooks recently. While most think of the NLRB in terms of unionized employers, its jurisdiction also impacts non- union employers as well. Many companies rely on outdated handbooks that could be in violation of the current NLRB guidelines. For example, if your handbook has policies that violate Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act you could be in for some legal trouble. Section 7 allows employees the right to join together to improve their pay and working conditions. The fact is, many startup companies and small to medium businesses often do not have human resource departments (or personnel trained in the human resource arena) to monitor changing laws and regulations. As a result, handbooks can be quickly outdated and out of compliance leaving the company ripe for a potential lawsuit. 

To help employers, the NLRB issued some "Do’s and Don’ts" when it comes to company policies and handbooks. Many of these rules stem from laws preventing employers from restricting employees’ rights to protected concerted activity. If you are saying to yourself, “I wouldn’t do that”, or “I don’t have to worry about that”, you are likely very wrong. There can be very subtle differences in how a policy is written when determining if the policy violates the law. When writing policies and procedures, a general rule to consider is never write a policy that imposes a blanket restriction on employee actions. Instead, polices should be written so the undesirable activity is clearly explained and the restrictions on the behavior are not too broad. 

Here are some examples the NLRB published to illustrate illegally written policies your company should avoid:
  1. “No defamatory, libelous, slanderous or discriminatory comments about the Company, its customers and/or competitors, its employees or management.'”
  2. “Do not make statements “that damage the Company or the Company’s reputation or that disrupt or damage the Company’s business relationships.”
  3. “Refrain from any action that would harm persons or property or cause damage to the Company’s business or reputation.”
While this language seems appropriate and any employer would want to discourage this type of behavior, they need to be very cautious with this type of a broadly written policy. 
According to the NLRB, these policies are unlawful because they would ban protected criticism or protests regarding their supervisors, management, or the employer in general, or they require that employees refrain from criticizing the employer in public. Both of these actions are protected by law (Griffin 2015).  
What does this mean for you? If your employee handbook lists these types of activities as grounds for termination, you could be in for a legal fight. While the NLRB does not fine employers, if the employer violates the employee’s Section 7 rights, a terminated employee could be returned to work with back pay and benefits.  

Should you have any questions or concerns regarding your company’s handbook, Sage Solutions Group is here to help. We offer individualized plans to help companies create or update handbooks that are in compliance with the current guidelines. 

USA. NLRB. General Counsel. Report of the General Counsel Concerning Employer Rules. By Richard F. Griffin. N.p., 18 Mar. 2015. Web. 8 Sept. 2017.


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