Unfair Labor Practice to Ban “Badmouthing” of Bosses

A package delivery service was in the midst of a Teamsters organizing campaign when the company’s general manager told an employee involved in the organizing drive that “it had come to his attention that he had been “badmouthing” managers in the parking lot, and that such conduct was unprofessional, and that if this conduct continued, he could receive a verbal or written warning.” Even though the statement did not explicitly restrict the worker’s rights under the National Labor Relations Act, an administrative law judge found that it was unlawful because workers would likely construe it as prohibiting protected activities.

In the decision, the judge noted that the general manager did not explain what he meant by “badmouthing” and that the term could be interpreted in many different ways, such as precluding employees from discussing unfair treatment by supervisors, which is protected by the Act.

Worth noting, the judge also examined a statement made by a security guard who worked for another company but provided security services for the package delivery company. The guard told an employee that he had been told to stop any union activity he saw occurring in the parking lot. The judge reasoned that the security guard was an agent of the company and found his statement to be coercive.

It is not just statements made by a company’s top executives that are subject to review under the Act. Companies need to ensure that their front-line supervisors and agents comply with the Act. Of course, the current Board defines the word “agent” as broadly as possible.

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.