Thursday, July 21, 2016

Theater of the Absurd – continued

Sometimes you just have to shake your head in wonder at how any progress can be made on any issue when federal agencies continue to contradict one another and work at cross purposes.

Last year, the US Chamber issued a report titled Theater of the Absurd. If you have any interest in this topic at all, no matter which side you’re on, this is a good read and has gotten far less attention than it deserves. The report outlines some of the craziness that has become the National Labor Relations Board and their decisions on common employer policies and practices.

So, what now? A recent ruling by the NLRB tells us. After complaints filed by union members about some of T-Mobile’s policies, the NLRB went on the hunt and dug into the company’s employee handbook and other policies. As has been common, the board found at least one policy it didn’t like and ruled to be illegal:

"[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."

You might ask "what’s wrong with this"? The NLRB says that this policy could be construed to restrict employees’ rights to "concerted activities"; for instance, engaging in controversial discussions about wages or working conditions, including discussions about unions. Seriously? Here’s a good article in the National Law Review, which includes a link to the ruling.

Now for (more of) the absurdity. Recently the EEOC came out with the result of its study on anti-harassment training. I wrote about it here. In the report, the EEOC describes several options employers have to make anti-harassment training more effective. One of the options is described thusly:

"Workplace civility training" focuses on promoting respect and civility in the workplace generally, rather than eliminating offensive behavior based on protected characteristics protected under anti-discrimination laws.
The agency also noted that it should – not will, not must, but should have a dialogue with the NLRB about its stance on workplace "civility codes". Ahem…….. When is that discussion going to take place? 

Talk about working at cross purposes! How is an employer supposed to create a harassment-free, bullying-free, respect for others environment when it risks getting nailed by one regulatory agency if it does, and another one if it doesn’t? Rock and a hard place, folks. Absurd.

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