Prohibiting Employees from Speaking to News Media may Violate Their Federal Labor Law Rights

Phillips 66 maintained a policy that prohibited comments about “company operations” that could “reasonably be understood by employees to prevent them from commenting on their own wages or employment conditions or any labor dispute with their employer.” The Company argued, on the other hand, that the policy was intended to control disclosures about confidential operations. You be the judge. The policy says:

If a Phillips 66 employee or on-site contractor is contacted by a member of the news media, no information exchange is permitted concerning Santa Maria or Rodeo Refinery operations. It is against company policy for anyone but an authorized company spokesperson to speak to the news media. This is to ensure that our company’s communications to the public are aligned and consistent, and that they are factual and meet all the legal and business confidentiality requirements. All media inquiries are to be referred to the designated site spokesperson. Please refer all calls to Kristen Kopp. If you have any questions, please contact your supervisor.

According to the Administrative Law Judge, “because Respondent’s ambiguous rule prohibits all ‘information exchange’ about ‘company operations,’ and those terms are ill defined, the guideline, as written, could also encompass and prohibit communications about ‘wage,’ ‘labor disputes,’ and other terms and conditions of employment.” Moreover, “because Respondent’s guideline fails to define its terms so as to clarify what communication is permissible,” said the Judge, “I find that Respondent’s rule reasonably tends to chill protected activity.” Therefore, maintaining the policy violated the National Labor Relations Act.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at maustin@ralaw.com.

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