An employee of Hills and Dales General Hospital in Michigan received a written warning about violating the hospital’s values and standards of behavior policy due to something she posted on Facebook. The policy prohibited employees from “engaging in or listening to” gossip and negative comments at work. The employee filed a charge against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which struck down parts of the policy.
The NLRB is an independent agency of the United States government, and part of its purpose is to investigate and remedy unfair labor practices. Unfair labor practices include limiting protected concerted activity, which are things workers can do without worrying about employer retaliation. The basis for striking down the hospital policy was that some of it could prohibit employees from participating in protected concerted activity, which includes discussing work complaints.
Hills and Dales General Hospital had a history of struggling with employee morale. Its problems included “backbiting and backstabbing,” and lack of inter-departmental cooperation. In 2006 the hospital created the values and standards of behavior policy at issue. One of the provisions was that employees could not make “negative comments about our fellow team members,” and employees should take “every opportunity to speak well of each other.” It also required that employees represent the hospital in a positive way, and “not engage in or listen to negativity or gossip.” Listening without participating or attempting to shut it down, the standards stated, would be considered the same as participating.
The NLRB ordered these policies be revised or rescinded, stating that “this is the standard remedy to assure that employees may engage in protected activity without fear of being subjected to an unlawful rule.” The NLRB order notes that the hospital did not violate the National Labor Relations Act by disciplining the employee. Rather, the issue was the hospital’s maintenance of the noted rules from the values and standards of behavior policy. Employees have a protected right to discuss work complaints, and to an extent “gossip.”
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