Human Resource and Labor Relations professionals (HR/LR) normally take the lead on workplace investigations of employee misconduct. Given that, they may also bear the blame for investigations that result in adverse employment actions that do not withstand litigation scrutiny. If a current or former employee challenges an adverse employment action via an EEOC or NLRB charge, a DOL complaint, a CBA grievance, or court action, the employer incurs significant expense and disruption simply defending the action. The employer’s exposure increases exponentially if the employer loses the case on the merits before a regulator or court. Consequently, HR/LR should devote sufficient time and attention to workplace investigations to avoid challenge in the first place, where possible, and to ensure the best chance of winning on the merits if a challenge does take place. But where to look for guidance? This blog answers that question and provides a checklist for HR/LR to follow to conduct employee misconduct investigations that will withstand litigation scrutiny.
On May 3, 2018, at our 15th Annual Labor Relations Conference, both the current and immediate-past Chairmen of the National Labor Relations Board will provide in-house counsel and human resources and labor relations professionals a special opportunity to see “behind the curtain.” Hear direct from these Presidential-appointees about where the NLRB has been and where it is going. Co-hosted with the Arizona Society for Human Resources Management at the Phoenician in Scottsdale, this full-day program features speakers from Steptoe’s Labor & Employment group, as well as:
- Marvin Kaplan, NLRB Chair
- Philip A. Miscimarra, NLRB Immediate-Past Chair
- Rosemary Ellis, EngenderHealth Interim President and CEO
- John Nelson, Republic Services Labor Relations Director, West Region
Click here for more information, the agenda, and to register. We hope to see you there.
In Part 1 of the series reexamining harassment policies and procedures, we looked at common harassment investigation missteps and how to correct them. In Part 2, we examine confidentiality policies.
Employers often defend Title VII harassment claims by showing that they exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct harassing behavior. A key aspect of reasonable care requires an employer to have an anti-harassment policy that, according to the EEOC, “should contain, at a minimum” six elements including an “assurance that the employer will protect the confidentiality of harassment complaints to the extent possible.”
At the same time, the NLRA prohibits employers from maintaining blanket confidentiality rules that prohibit employees from discussing workplace investigations. In Banner Estrella Medical Center, 358 NLRB 809 (2012), the NLRB found that an HR consultant violated the NLRA by routinely asking employees not discuss ongoing investigations with their coworkers. To lawfully require confidentiality of employees, an employer must show a legitimate business justification specific to the investigation at issue, such as the need to protect witnesses or prevent tampering with evidence. That remains the law today, despite the NLRB’s recent shift on employer policies.
So how’s an employer to reconcile those seemingly conflicting laws? Continue Reading Confidentiality Policies that Survive EEOC and NLRB Scrutiny: Reexamining Harassment Investigation Protocol Part 2
Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board vacated Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors amidst controversy surrounding Member Bill Emanuel’s participation in the decision. That decision leaves intact the Obama-board’s expanded joint employer standard from Browning-Ferris Industries of California, at least until the Board finds another vehicle to overturn the case.
The NLRB’s Office of Inspector General issued a report finding that Member Emanuel should have recused himself from the Hy-Brand decision in light of the close connection between his prior law firm, which represented one of the parties in Browning-Ferris, and the issues in Hy-Brand. The Board noted that report when it issued its Order vacating the decision.
In its fifth major decision in five days, the Board overruled a 2016 decision that limited what changes to terms and conditions of employment that an employer can make without bargaining. In so doing, the Board returned to a broader view of what it means to maintain the “status quo.” In Raytheon Network Centric Systems, 365 NLRB No. 161 (Dec. 15, 2017), the Board held that employers do not need to bargain when “the employer takes actions that are not materially different from what it has done in the past.” In Raytheon, that meant the employer lawfully modified employee medical benefit plans after the CBA expired because the employer had made similar modifications annually for 11 years.
Late Friday evening, the NLRB overruled Specialty Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center of Mobile, 357 NLRB 934 (2011), the decision that permitted unions to organize “micro-units” of employees. In PCC Structurals, Inc., 365 NLRB No. 160, the Board returned to “the traditional community of interest standard” for evaluating the appropriateness of a petitioned-for bargaining unit.
Today, the NLRB issued two landmark cases reversing precedent on the Board’s test for work rules and joint employment. In The Boeing Company, 365 NLRB No. 154, the Board reversed a 2004 decision that prior Boards used to find unlawful “a large number of common-sense work rules and requirements that most people would reasonably expect every employer to maintain.” In Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd., 365 NLRB No. 156, the Board overruled the Browning-Ferris joint-employment test and returned to requiring direct control over essential terms and conditions of employment before it will find joint employment status.
On Monday, December 11, 2017, the Board issued a decision holding that Administrative Law Judges can approve an employer’s offer to settle unfair labor practice charges so long as the settlement offer is “reasonable,” even if the general counsel and charging party object to the settlement. The case reverses Obama-era precedent that held that an ALJ can approve a settlement only if the settlement provides “complete relief” for every alleged unfair labor practice. That standard made it impractical for employers to settle unfair labor practice charges because employers received no compromise in exchange for foregoing full-blown litigation.
The newly-appointed NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb issued his list of priorities in Advice Memo 18-02 released December 4, 2017. The Memo sets forth the “Mandatory Submissions to Advice” – the kinds of cases Regional Directors must submit to the Division of Advice to obtain guidance before issuing a complaint. The Advice Memo signals the GC’s intent to assist the Board in undoing much of the Obama-era Board’s sweeping changes to federal labor law. As predicted, many of the priorities focus on the Board’s handbook-related changes, granting employee access to employer email systems, and confidentiality rules in investigations.
On October 10, Local 100, United Labor Unions filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Dallas Cowboys claiming that it unlawfully threatened players to prevent them from engaged in protected concerted activity. Earlier this week, Cowboys’ general manager Jerry Jones threatened to bench players who refused to stand for the national anthem.
The charge highlights how simple it is for literally anyone on the street to file an unfair labor practice (“ULP”) charge. Local 100 does not represent the players—the National Football League Players Association does. But anyone can file a ULP charge—the NLRB requires no standing.
The charge also raises the interesting question of whether kneeling for the national anthem constitutes concerted activity protected by the NLRA, even under the NLRB’s currently broad standards. The NLRA protects “concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection,” but only as it relates to terms and conditions of employment. Protesting social and racial injustice, broadly speaking, does not relate to the players’ working conditions, particularly where none of the players have claimed poor treatment by the NFL or their teams. But if players kneel to support other players (such as Colin Kaepernick) or to protest Jones’s new rule, such conduct could earn the protection of the Act.