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May
2016
11

NLRB Says T-Mobile’s “Mandatory Positivity” Rule is Illegal; Employee Handbook Stifles Organizing

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It’s official. You can’t be forced to like your job.  

That has been established by a April 29th ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a charge brought forward by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) against T-Mobile and its affiliate, Metro PCS. The specific charge was against parts of the employee handbook pertaining to ‘mandatory positivity.’  The issues with the handbook were brought before the NLRB over three years ago.  The questionable clause in the employee handbook reads:

“Employees are expected to maintain a positive work environment by communicating in a manner that is conducive to effective working relationships with internal and external customers, clients, co-workers, and management.”

In the eyes of the NLRB, employees have the right to voice displeasure about their jobs.  On a deeper level, banning negative reactions in the workplace can unfairly complicate efforts to organize workers. The three-member board found the “positive work environment” requirement too broad, believing it could be used to restrict freedoms granted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA):

“We find that employees would reasonably construe the rule to restrict potentially controversial or contentious communications and discussions, including those protected by Section 7 of the [NLRA], out of fear that the [employer] would deem them to be inconsistent with a ‘positive work environment.”

Touching specifically on organizing, the ruling stated:

Because labor disputes and union organizing efforts frequently involve controversy, criticism of the employer, arguments, and less-than-“positive” statements about terms and conditions of employment, employees reading the rule here would reasonably steer clear of a range of potentially controversial but protected communication in the workplace for fear of running afoul of the rule.

The NLRB also ruled against other language in the employee handbook, according to Law360:

The board affirmed Judge Dibble’s ruling in favor of an AFL-CIO affiliated union that various other T-Mobile workplace rules were too broad.

Among the faulty rules: a provision that the employee handbook was a confidential and proprietary document that couldn’t be disclosed to a third party without written permission, a rule that requires employees to maintain the confidentiality of the names of employees involved in internal investigations, and a confidentiality rule that classified employee salary information as proprietary information not subject to disclosure.

T-Mobile has a tenuous history with respect to union organizing, including recent charges that it created a fake union in order to union-bust.

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