In its first ruling on an employer’s social media policy, the National Labor Relations Board found that Costco Wholesale Corporation’s social media policy in its employee handbook violated the National Labor Relations Act. Among the policy provisions reviewed, the Board analyzed Costco’s policy prohibiting employees from posting electronically statements that damage the company or any person’s reputation.
In its September 7, 2012 opinion, the Board stated that the “appropriate inquiry” is whether the policy would “reasonably tend to chill employees in their exercise of their Section 7 rights[,]” which provides employees with the right to engage in concerted activity. While the Board acknowledged that Costco’s policy did not explicitly reference Section 7 activity, the Board did find that the policy’s broad prohibition on statements “clearly encompasses concerted communications protesting [Costco’s] treatment of its employees.” The Board specifically noted that there was nothing in Costco’s policy that even suggested the exclusion of protected communications. Accordingly, the Board concluded that Costco’s policy had a reasonable tendency to inhibit employees’ protected activity and thus violated the National Labor Relations Act.