T-Mobile called out by feds for limiting employee conversations

Can your employer restrict what you’re allowed to speak about with your fellow employees? Can you be fired for discussing compensation, benefits, or work conditions?

According to a recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), companies that attempt to dissuade employees from discussing work conditions or wages may be violating the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Let’s examine the recent decision against T-Mobile and discuss what it may mean to other workers.

No Complaining Allowed

T-Mobile had a corporate policy that it claimed was designed to create a positive work atmosphere. The rule stated “

[T-Mobile] expects all employees to behave in a professional manner that promotes efficiency, productivity, and cooperation. 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.”

While this rule may sound harmless, some employees had a different take on it. Several staffers at T-Mobile locations around the country claimed that the policy was intended to silence them in regard to discussing compensation and other work conditions.

They complained to the NLRB, the independent federal agency that protects workers’ rights to organize to improve wages and working conditions. The individual complaints were consolidated.

Last year, an administrative law judge for the NLRB ruled against T-Mobile.

T-Mobile appealed, and the case recently went in front of a three-member panel of the NLRB. The panel affirmed the earlier ruling.

In its decision, the NLRB stated that the company’s policy was overly broad. It pointed out that the rule could be construed as restricting “potentially controversial or contentious communications and discussions … out of fear that the [employer] would deem them to be inconsistent with a ‘positive work environment.’”

(The NLRB decision can be seen here.)

What Workers Need to Know

Among other things, the NLRA protects the rights of non-union employees to engage in certain “protected activity.”  Often, this activity includes actions that could eventually lead to union formation, such as discussing the terms and conditions of employment.

As the T-Mobile case illustrates, the NLRA further prohibits an employer from restricting workers’ ability to discuss compensation and fringe benefits in the workplace.  Thus, an employer generally cannot prohibit employees from discussing their wages, bonuses, or benefits with each other.

The NLRA applies to both union and non-union employees across many industries in the private sector. (However, some industries are exempt; see here for more information.)

Contact the Murphy Law Group Now for a Free Consultation

As with most federal regulations, the NLRA can be complicated. If you feel that your rights may have been violated under the NLRA, it’s best to speak to a lawyer who has experience fighting for workers’ rights.

Email us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.