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DTCI: Beware of overly broad media policies

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gesslingBy Joshua B. Gessling

The National Labor Relations Board continues to be very active in evaluating employee handbook provisions that may affect the rights of union and nonunion employees to engage in protected, concerted activity under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.

A three-member panel recently issued its decision in DirecTV U.S. DirecTV Holdings LLC and struck down several of the company’s employee handbook provisions. The NLRB declared the employer’s media policy, which prohibited employees from contacting the media, to be overly broad and unlawful because it could be reasonably construed by employees to limit the Section 7 right to discuss labor disputes with media. Consistent with several other recent decisions, the NLRB found that the employer’s policy made no attempt to distinguish between protected and unprotected activity. Furthermore, the employer’s policy required that employees obtain authorization from the employer before making comments regarding the employer to media. The board found this requirement to be unlawful, holding that the employer may not require an employee to obtain permission to engage in protected, concerted off-duty activity.

The NLRB also struck down the employer’s handbook provision on the employer’s confidentiality rules, which prohibited employees from discussing details about the job, company business or projects with anyone outside the company. The board found this provision to be unlawful because employees could reasonably understand the rule to prohibit employees from discussing wages and other terms and conditions of employment. The board also believed the employer’s rule could be reasonably understood to prevent employees from communicating with union representatives, NLRB agents or other governmental agencies regarding workplace issues, which provided an additional basis for its determination.

Employers should evaluate internal policies and employee handbooks to ensure that all company rules are consistent with legal developments. For additional information on how DirecTV U.S. DirecTV Holdings LLC affects your media, confidentiality and other employee handbook provisions, contact this author or a member of the Labor and Employment Group at Kahn Dees Donovan & Kahn LLP.•

Mr. Gessling is an associate in the Evansville office of Kahn Dees Donovan & Kahn LLP. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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