The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is a federal law that addresses employer and employee rights. It’s enforced by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agency tasked with protecting employee rights.
The NLRA guarantees employees certain rights to improve their work conditions including the right to organize, form a union, and discuss the terms and conditions of their employment.
Until yesterday, an employer’s work rules, policies, or handbook language violated the NLRA if an employee could “reasonably construe” the language to restrict his NLRA rights. The standard was extremely restrictive because well-intentioned, seemingly-harmless rules could be a violation if an employee thought the rule restricted his rights. For example, in 2017, the NLRB held that an employer violated the NLRA because of a rule that limited employees’ use of workplace confidential information.
Yesterday, the NLRB reversed the harsh standard, opting for what appears to be a more balanced approach. Now, when an employer’s rule or policy doesn’t appear to be a violation, the NLRB will balance the employer’s interest in maintaining the rule against the likelihood that the rule actually impacts employees’ rights.
This is breaking news, so it’s not entirely clear the extent to which the new standard will permit employers to implement business-justified rules that may impact employees’ rights. Employers should continue to be mindful of employees’ NLRA rights. In the meantime, we’ll continue to report on developments at the NLRB.