The National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) serves to protect the rights of employees and employers while restricting certain management practices that may harm workers. The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) is the federal agency that enforces the NLRA.
Section 7 of the NLRA protects an employee’s right to engage in concerted activity, organize, and bargain collectively. Section 8 prohibits employers from adopting workplace policies that interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in their exercise of these Section 7 rights. Until recently, the NLRB analyzed employer policies under a “reasonable construction” standard created in Lutheran Heritage Village-Livonia, which asked whether employees could “reasonably construe” that an employer policy prohibited a Section 7 right (known as the Lutheran Heritage standard). This standard was very unclear and often led to arbitrary results, leaving much confusion about what rules were actually prohibited under the NLRA.
Recently, in The Boeing Company, the NLRB abandoned this approach and adopted a new standard, allowing the NLRB to consider unique characteristics of a particular situation, rather than the previous “one-size-fits-all” analysis. 365 NLRB No. 154 (Dec. 14, 2017). Under the new rule, the NLRB will first determine whether a facially neutral policy, when reasonably interpreted, could prohibit or interfere with the exercise of an NLRA right. If not, the rule is lawful, without consideration of business justifications.
However, if the NLRB finds that a policy may interfere with Section 7 rights, the NLRB will now analyze two factors: (1) the nature and extent of the potential impact on NLRA rights; and (2) legitimate justifications associated with the requirements. In making this evaluation, the NLRB will work to “strike the proper balance” between “asserted business justifications and the invasion of employee rights” under the NLRA.
After the NLRB analyzes a policy, it will fall into one of three categories:
- Category 1 includes rules the NLRB designates as lawful to maintain, either because they aren’t interpreted to interfere with an employee’s NLRA rights or because any potential impact on these employee rights are outweighed by employer justifications for the rule. (i.e. rules that are lawful, because any impact on an NLRA right is outweighed by the employer’s reasoning for the rule).
- Category 2 includes rules that warrant individualized scrutiny to determine if the policy would interfere with an employee’s NLRA rights, and if so, whether the potential impact on these rights is outweighed by legitimate employer justifications.
- Category 3 includes rules the NLRB determines are unlawful to maintain because they prohibit or limit NLRA protected conduct and the potential negative impact on employees’ NLRA rights is not outweighed by employer justifications for the rule. (i.e. rules that are unlawful, because the impact on an NLRA right outweighs any employer justification for the rule)
The NLRB explained that in making its determination, it may differentiate among different types of NLRA protected rights, as well as substantial, rather than peripheral, employer justifications. The NLRB also noted that it may apply distinctions between different industries and work settings, as well as consider particular events that may be relevant to the purposes served by a specific policy.
The NLRB will weigh a policy’s potential impact on protected NLRA activity against the employer’s legitimate business justifications for the policy. If the policy’s justifications outweigh the potential impact of employee rights, the rule is lawful. If employer justifications don’t outweigh the impact on employee rights, the policy is unlawful.
This new approach is more favorable to employers since it offers greater consideration of employer justifications for rules. Additionally, employers and employees will have more confidence about the validity of policies, since the new standard provides greater clarity and certainty regarding whether, and to what extent, different types of rules are lawful.
Even though the NLRB’s new approach offers more security to employers, it is still important for employers to review their employee handbooks and other workplace policies to ensure they all comply with the NLRA. Attorneys at General Counsel PC are specialized in labor and employment law and have experience working with business owners and individuals across Virginia, specifically in Fairfax County, Arlington, Loudoun County, and Prince William. Our attorneys will stay informed of subsequent NLRB decisions offering additional guidance on the new approach, to ensure we can provide clients with the most up to date information. Call General Counsel PC at 703-556-0411 today to see how we can help you.