Lucan_J_WebMy colleague Jarad Lucan returns today with an update on a post regarding the impact that recent labor law decisions are having on colleges and universities.

Two years ago, my colleagues and I reported on the case before the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) related to the Northwestern University’s scholarship football players seeking the

Bans on taking photos at work are addressed in the NLRB report.
Bans on taking photos at work are addressed in the NLRB report.

The NLRB’s General Counsel’s office today released a lengthy report “concerning recent employer rule” cases.

That sounds generic. It’s not.

Rather, the NLRB is now outlining its views on otherwise-neutral employer policies and whether they could be deemed to

Photo Courtesy Library of Congress

On Twitter and Facebook, the concept of “Throwback Thursday” (or #tbt) has become quite popular.  Typically, it’s a picture from long ago that you’ve forgotten.The theory behind why its so popular is that there is still gold to be mined out of older things.

I was thinking about that concept lately when it comes to blogs and employment law. Overall, lawyers tend to write about the latest and greatest development as if it requires a wholesale reinvention of human resources. I’ve tried to provide some context over the years but I’ve also been trying to find a forum to provide additional perspective on certain issues.

So, with that in mind, from time to time, I’ll take a look back at some cases and issues that still have relevance today and give them that modern day “blog” makeover.

The case that immediately comes to mind is Torosyan v.  Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which was decided just a few months before I started my career in employment law. It was the case I can remember being discussed in my employment law meetings when I first started work.

Background

According to the court’s decision, back in 1982, the plaintiff came to Connecticut at the defendant’s invitation and expense, for job interviews with five of the defendant’s employees. According to the court:

At several of the interviews, the plaintiff informed the defendant’s employees that he was seeking “long-term” employment, and that he did not want to move his family from California unless the defendant could guarantee him job security. In response, one interviewer told the plaintiff that if the plaintiff did a good job, the defendant would “take care” of him. Another interviewer told the plaintiff that he hoped that the plaintiff would stay forever and that the plaintiff would have the opportunity to examine the company’s employee manual to determine whether it provided the guarantees that he sought. ….

On August 31, 1982, the defendant wrote to the plaintiff, stating that “[t]his letter confirms our offer to you for employment as Biochemist III at an initial salary of $30,000 per year.” Although the letter from the defendant further represented that the defendant would provide the plaintiff with various fringe benefits, it did not state that the plaintiff’s employment would be terminable only for cause. The letter also did not state, however, that it contained all the terms of the plaintiff’s employment contract or that it superseded any prior or subsequent oral representations that might be made to the plaintiff. The plaintiff countersigned the letter without adding anything thereto and returned it to the defendant.

On his first day of work, Torosyan received the employee manual. The manual provided that the company could discharge employees for “cause.” Approximately two years later, the company distributed a new employee manual which no longer limited discharges to cause. The new manual included a disclaimer stating that the manual was for instructional purposes only, and also added a section stating that falsification of any company record could result in termination. One year later, Torosyan was fired for submitting a false expense report, and sued claiming breach of contract and defamation.


Continue Reading Throwback Thursday: Why Your Offer Letters and Employee Handbooks Have Disclaimers #tbt

On Monday, the Connecticut Bar Association held its annual meeting. Lots of labor and employment law topics were covered, some of which I missed. I’ve asked one of my bar colleagues, Rita Trivedi — who will be a Teaching Program Fellow at Columbia Law School in the fall — to share her insights on the events.   My thanks to Rita for the contribution.

First up: A recap of NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon’s address to the meeting.  

It’s been a busy year at the National Labor Relations Board, and Acting General Counsel (ACG) Lafe Solomon’s address at the Connecticut Bar Association’s Annual Meeting gave practitioners much to think about.  

Among the highlights:

  • The next possible “big thing” for employers to think about are at-will disclaimers.   Solomon observed that a blanket at-will statement might (emphasis on might) violate the NLRA.  Thus, employers should now take particular care when drafting at-will clauses in employee handbooks.   

    In general, many employer handbooks have clauses that provide that the employee is and will remain at-will, unless that status is changed by the company’s top executive (either in writing or otherwise).  Intended to prevent a change based on the casual statements of a manager or co-worker, at-will clauses have become a bastion of employment policy.  

    Yet, according to Solomon, if an employee could reasonably believe that this kind of clause means that even union representation and a collective bargaining agreement cannot alter his or her at-will status, the employee might conclude that organization is futile – in which case the employer’s provision might violate the NLRA.  

    What then should management attorneys and their clients do to address what Solomon recognized as a valid concern? 

    Through a passionate discussion on all sides at the meeting, the takeaway seems murky, and few concrete examples or models came to light.  Savings clauses to the effect that nothing in the policy infringes on rights under the NLRA will likely be insufficient to prevent exposure.  

    Continue Reading Guest Post: NLRB Acting General Counsel Addresses At-Will Disclaimers and More at CBA Annual Meeting

I’ve had a little more time to digest the latest memo from the NLRB opining on what is and what isn’t appropriate for employers to have in their policies. And I’ve come to a very serious conclusion:

It’s an utter mess. 

New Guidance = Utter Mess

(Fellow employment lawyers use the phrases “bungled mess” (Jon Hyman), “not good” (Molly DiBianca), and “Inconsistent, overreaching, it’s a hot tepid mess” (Eric Meyer) to describe the latest missive.)

For employers, make no mistake: This is the NLRB’s attempt at an all-out, crazy assault on an employer’s ability to have policies that have any teeth to them. Even the most innocuous of policies can get shot down by the NLRB as being over broad and illegal. 

For example, telling employees “Don’t release confidential guest, team member or company information. . . .” is now deemed to be “illegal” because it could, in the NLRB’s view, “reasonably be interpreted as prohibiting employees from discussing and disclosing information regarding their own conditions of employment, as well as the conditions of employment of employees other than themselves–activities that are clearly protected by Section 7.”


Continue Reading After NLRB’s Memo, Drafting Employment Policies Got Trickier

With all the legislative developments in Connecticut over the last year or so, it’s tough to keep track of all of the changes that your company needs to consider to update your employee handbook and employment policies.

Here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of some of the changes to consider with a link to more information on each of them.

1) For your EEO policies, be sure to add “gender identity” as a protected category.   You may also want to consider adding language that your company will not discriminate based on “any other protected category under state or federal law” to protect you.
Continue Reading The Seven Updates To Consider to Your Employee Handbook

You know it’s summer when the most exciting headline in employment law over the last day seems to be the markup of an arbitration fairness bill by a House Judiciary Subcommittee.  Not terribly exciting.  If you’d like more details on that bill, Workplace Horizons has a nice little summary and does it’s typical terrific job on keeping