Last week, an administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board, ruled that a technical college ran afoul of the National Labor Relations Act for instituting a policy prohibiting employees from gossiping and for then firing an employee who violated the policy.  Click here for a copy of the case.

Laurus Technical College in Atlanta (LTC) had a policy prohibiting employees from participating in or instigating “gossip about the company, an employee, or customer.” The policy defined gossiping as: “1) Talking about a person’s personal life when they are not present; 2) Talking about a person’s professional life without his/her supervisor present; 3) Negative, or untrue, or disparaging comments or criticisms of another person or persons; 4) Creating, sharing, or repeating information that can injure a person’s credibility or reputation; 5) Creating, sharing, or repeating a rumor about another person; and 6) Creating, sharing or repeating a rumor that is overheard or hearsay.”

LTC fired admissions employee Joslyn Henderson for soliciting her co-workers to go work for a competitor.  After their manager was fired, Henderson and two other employees discussed the termination and their concern for their own job security.  Henderson then called a colleague who worked at a competitor college to inquire if there were any open positions for the other two employees.  When LTC found out about the call it fired Henderson.

The NRLB argued that Henderson was terminated for violating the no gossip rule. The administrative law judge agreed and found the policy to be “overly broad, ambiguous, and severely restricts employees from discussing or complaining about any terms and conditions of employment” and a violation of the NLRA. The judge then recommended overturning the dismissal of Henderson because there was evidence that she was terminated for violating the overly broad rule.   Notwithstanding the gossip rule, the judge determined that even LTC’s proffered reason for Henderson’s termination violated the NLRA because the solicitations were made when the co-workers were discussing their own job security.

The case will now go to NLRB and will likely be appealed to federal court if the NLRB adopts the administrative law judge’s recommended order.  Employers should stay tuned to see if the NLRB concurs with the administrative law judge that the reach of the NLRA extends to workplace gossiping.