Requiring Employees to be Courteous Is Ruled Unlawful


The NLRB decides employers can not requires courtesy.

I don’t know if the decisions by the National Labor Relations Board can get any more ridiculous than this one. According to them requiring your employees to be courteous is ILLEGAL!  Has the world gone amok? Or is it just this particular Board?
The Case
Briefly, the case, Karl Knauz Motors, Inc, dealt with a BMW car sales rep making a comment and posting pictures on Facebook about an accident at a nearby Land Rover dealership, which was owned by the same company. (Another employee allowed a 13 year old to drive a Land Rover, which he promptly put in a pond after running over his dad’s foot. I wonder if that employee got fired?) After posting the pictures and making comments that the dealerships owner thought was inappropriate the sales representative was fired. Naturally he filed a case with the NLRB, since he had no other issue to file on.
The good news and the bad
The good news in this case was that the Administrative Law Judge and the Board found that the Facebook posting was not “protected concerted activity” on the part of the employee. It was what they called a “lark” statement and no other employees were involved for the betterment of their working conditions.
The bad news is that in review all the evidence the ALJ took a look at the company handbook. It read: (b) Courtesy: Courtesy is the responsibility of every employee. Everyone is expected to be courteous, polite and friendly to our customers, vendors and suppliers, as well as to their fellow employees. No one should be disrespectful or use profanity or any other language which injures the image or reputation of the Dealership.
I think many of us would consider this to be pretty reasonable language to have in an employee handbook. BUT NOT THE NLRB! The ALJ, affirmed by the Board, said that the dealership violated Section 8(a)(1) of the Act by maintaining this rule in its employee handbook.  The Board went on to say:

We find the “Courtesy” rule unlawful because employees would reasonably construe its broad prohibition against “disrespectful” conduct and “language which injures the image or reputation of the Dealership” as encompassing Section 7 activity, such as employees’ protected statements—whether to coworkers, supervisors, managers, or third parties who deal with the Respondent— that object to their working conditions and seek the support of others in improving them.

You can read the entire decision by clicking the link above and opening Board Decision in pdf.
The effect of Board decisions
I have written several times, as has Jon Hyman and others that Board decisions are getting outrageous. It has gotten to the point that we are required to allow our employees to be discourteous, foul-mouthed, non-confidential jerks to the detriment of the company all in the name of not “chilling” their rights to engage in the formation of a union or engage in union-like activity. It is apparent the NLRB is making repayment for support in previous elections and it is being taken out of the pocket books of employers.
But that is just my opinion. What is yours?
For further views see:
The Ohio Employer’s Law Blog
Smith, Gambrell & Russell

6 thoughts on “Requiring Employees to be Courteous Is Ruled Unlawful”

  1. What I think is so rediculous is that in this instance, they are setting the standard that you can’t dictate to your employees good behavior, however if you have an employee who is disrespectful toward people, and someone takes offense to their actions, words etc… they can file a claim under the harassment umbrella. The employers are in a Lose,Lose situation when the laws protect the total opposites.

  2. Oh, I don’t know. He posted the comments on FaceBook. He wasn’t rude or discourteous to a customer and didn’t make the comments to employees in general at work. I’m not a fan of regulating what my employees say on their own time, even if other employees see the comments. I’m certainly not the FB police. I’d rather employees bring concerns to the proper managers of course (and we don’t know in this case if he did or not). But he was asked to remove the comments and did. Sounds like the dealership needs to work on employee relations.

    • Susan:
      Indeed the dealership might need to improve their ER, however, the point of this post is that the NLRB, in a blanket statement says it is illegal for employers to request that their employees be courteous, to each other and to customers. They are saying it is there protected right to be rude. They did however agree that the employer was within their rights to fire that particular employee.

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