In a game-changing 3-2 decision on December 11, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) overruled its 2007 Register Guard decision, which upheld the right of employers to limit employee access to company email systems, calling it “clearly incorrect” and holding that employees have a presumptive right to use their employers’ email systems for non-business purposes, like communications about union organizing, wages and working conditions, during “nonworking time.” Register Guard, which has long been criticized by organized labor, held that an employer may completely prohibit employees from using an employer’s email system for Section 7 purposes, even if they are otherwise permitted access to the email system—without demonstrating any business justification—so long as the ban is not applied discriminatorily.
Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, California employers hoped this day would come. In a predictable result, the California Supreme Court today acknowledged that class action waivers in employment arbitration agreements are enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). In so doing, the Court overruled its 2007 decision in Gentry v. Superior Court which effectively had barred class action waivers for wage and hour cases. But the Court’s 6-1 plurality decision also bolstered an alternate method for bringing Labor Code claims in court by declaring that actions brought under the Private Attorneys General Act (Labor Code § 2968 et seq.) are not waivable by private agreement and thus not subject to compelled arbitration. Read More
Joining the ever growing list of opinions on the arbitrability of class claims, an NLRB Administrative Law Judge recently ruled that an arbitration agreement that did not expressly bar workers from bringing class or collective actions still violated federal labor law because the employer’s steps taken to enforce the agreement in court had the practical effect of doing so. Read More
The Miami Dolphins recently have come under intense scrutiny amid allegations that coaches encouraged defensive guard Richie Icognito to bully teammate Jonathan Martin in an effort to “toughen” him up. The alleged bullying was so severe, including threats of violence and racially derogatory statements, that Martin left the team, the NFL launched an investigation, and the Dolphins suspended Incognito indefinitely. While it may have taken this locker room scandal to bring bullying into the public eye, the legal and practical ramifications of workplace bullying are common, and employers can learn many lessons from this case. Read More
With the increasing prominence of social media, employers have been rightfully concerned about the impact of employees’ out-of-work statements on the work place—particularly when it comes to the reputation of the employer. In the last few years, the National Labor Relations Board has held that even offensive language can be protected concerted activity [See previous Orrick blog postings on this topic from September 25, 2012 and May 16, 2013]. However, apparently there is a limit: an administrative law judge held last week that the expletive-laden Facebook posts of two youth center employees crossed a line. Read More
As reported in prior blogs, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has become increasingly active in attacking employer policies on the grounds that those policies chill employees’ rights to engage in concerted activity. In particular, the NLRB has been scrutinizing social media policies. Read More
A recent D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision striking down several recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board has cast doubt over one of the NLRB’s most controversial decisions from 2012.
In Noel Canning v. NLRB, F. 3d (D.C. Cir. Jan. 25, 2013), the D.C. Circuit held that President Obama lacked constitutional authority to use recess appointments to name three new members to the NLRB because the vacancies did not arise, and the appointments were not made, during a “Recess of the Senate,” which is defined as “the period between sessions that would end with the ensuing session of the Senate.” Slip op. at 18; 39-40. As a result, the court held that the NLRB lacked a quorum when it decided the underlying case, rendering its decision void ab initio.
The holding in Noel Canning raises questions about the viability of In re D.R. Horton, Inc., 357 NLRB 184 – 2012, one of the most widely discussed NLRB decisions of 2012. In D.R. Horton, the Board held that arbitration clauses that prohibit employees from pursuing class or collective actions violate employee rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) to engage in protected concerted activity. D.R. Horton’s appeal will be heard by the Fifth Circuit on February 4.
D.R. Horton was decided the day before President Obama made the recess appointments at issue in Noel Canning. However, Craig Becker, one of the three NLRB members who decided D.R. Horton, was the subject of an earlier recess appointment in 2010. D.R. Horton filed a letter with the Fifth Circuit on January 29, 2013, arguing that the holding in Noel Canning should be applied to Becker’s appointment and render the decision void. The Fifth Circuit is expected to address this issue together with D.R. Horton’s existing arguments during oral argument on February 4.
Employers in California have been watching closely to see how courts will apply the United States Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740 (2011), which held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempted state law concerning the enforceability of class action waiver provisions, in which a party waives his or her right to arbitrate claims on a class basis. Read More
Earlier this year, in D.R. Horton, Inc., 357 NLRB No. 184 (Jan. 6, 2012), the National Labor Relations Board (“Board” or “NLRB”) held that mandatory arbitration agreements requiring all employment disputes to be resolved through individual, bilateral arbitration violate the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) because such agreements impermissibly restrict employees’ rights under Section 7 to engage in “concerted action for mutual aid or protection.” Although some courts have already rejected D.R. Horton (see e.g., opinion from S.D.N.Y., opinion from M.D. Fla. and opinion from California State Court) two recent pronouncements call into question additional, commonly used and accepted employment practices after finding they also had a “chilling effect” on employees’ right to engage in protected, concerted activity. Even though it remains to be seen whether these decisions will survive full Board and/or appellate court review, their rationale applies to union and non-union workplaces, and both decisions are worth reviewing now for the impact they may have on employer practices in these and other areas. Read More