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NLRB: Overly broad handbook policies unenforceable

Employers often go to great lengths to protect their company. To do this, they may develop strict workplace practices with which they ask employees to comply. If an employee violates a contract or the requirements set in an employee handbook, there may be grounds to take legal action against the employee.

However, these tools can fail to protect employers if they are unlawful or violate an employee's rights. It is for this reason that employers should ensure their policies, wage structures and employment contracts are not only effective, but enforceable as well. Companies that fail to have these things assessed by someone familiar with state and federal employment laws can run into some serious legal disputes.

For example, the owners of a restaurant in Connecticut attempted to enforce the terms of their workplace policies and employee handbook only to learn that doing so violated the rights of their employees. 

The owners had a policy in place that prohibited workers from discussing the company on social media sites. However, employees took to Facebook to express their anger when they discovered the owners failed to complete tax information properly, resulting in multiple employees getting stuck with massive tax liabilities.

The owners fired two workers as a result of their comments, stating that they had been in violation of the terms set in the employee handbook.

However, the National Labor Relations Board reviewed the case and ultimately determined that the comments made by employees were, in fact, protected by law. It further stated that the company's policy on social media was too broad to enforce. The workers that were fired were reinstated and the company was ordered to reverse any disciplinary measures that were handed down to other workers.

Situations like this can be costly for employers in many ways; not only can it be expensive to respond to such claims, but it can also be damaging to a company's reputation which can hurt business. 

These disputes can often be avoided by reviewing workplace policies and termination decisions with a knowledgeable attorney. Employers who may be in a similar situation involving alleged violations of employee policies and misconduct would be wise to speak with an attorney to better understand their rights and legal options. 

Source: People's World, "NLRB protects Facebook time for workers," Mark Gruenberg, Oct. 24, 2014

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