Is expecting employees to be courteous illegal?
The National Labor Relations Board upheld a previous finding that a car dealership’s courtesy policy was too broad because it might be interpreted by employees as discouraging their use of concerted activity to address work place concerns. The offending policy stated:
(b) Courtesy: Courtesy is the responsibility of every
employee. Everyone is expected to be courteous, polite
and friendly to our customers, vendors and suppliers, as
well as to their fellow employees. No one should be
disrespectful or use profanity or any other language
which injures the image or reputation of the Dealership.
What was wrong with this policy? The National Labor Relations Act makes it illegal for employers to keep employees from joining together to raise concerns about workplace conditions. The protection of so-called “concerted activities” applies to both unionized and nonunionized workplaces, and at its best furthers the important goal of allowing employees to speak out about workplace conditions without fear of reprisal.
Suffice it to say this is not implementation of a law at its best. Your average employee understands the distinction between acting courteously and speaking out about workplace conditions. But the NLRB doesn’t think the American worker can be held to the same standards that parents expect of their kids every day. Rulings like this undermine rather than strengthen legitimate employee protections by creating the perception that regulations are being interpreted not to ensure that employees are being treated fairly but to impose restrictions on the ability of employees and employers to conduct themselves with as little government oversight as necessary.
On the bright side, the comments that triggered this litigation were made on an employee’s Facebook page; however, while the initial decision that was appealed gave employers some guidance on their rights to monitor and restrict an employee’s online conduct, the NLRB decision doesn’t deal with the Facebook issue in the case. So even this silver lining is of limited value.