NLRB Strikes Down Hospital Rule Against Workplace “Negativity”

Eric Paltell
Eric Paltell
04/03/2014

I remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Wilbourne, telling us a very important rule: “if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.”  Well, its a good thing the current NLRB was not around back then, because it looks like they would have had a problem with that rule.

In Hill and Dales General Hospital, 360 NLRB No. 70 (April 1, 2014), a hospital decided to change its culture, which was plagued by “back-biting and back-stabbing.”  Morale was low, employees were leaving, and patients were seeking care elsewhere.  In an effort to change the culture, the Hospital issued new “Values and Standards of Behavior” and asked each employee to sign poster sized copies placed in the lobby, as well as individual copies placed in their personnel files.  Included in the new rules were the following:

“Teamwork … .

11. We will not make negative comments about our fellow team members and we will take every opportunity to speak well of each other … .

16. We will represent Hills & Dales in the community in a positive and professional manner in every opportunity.

Attitude … .

21. We will not engage in or listen to negativity or gossip. We will recognize that listening without acting to stop it is the same as participating.”

After the Hospital fired an employee for throwing a yogurt cup at a supervisor, the fired employee took to Facebook to talk about her termination. A current employee, Danielle Corlis, responded to the Facebook posts by commenting: “Holy s–t rock on!  Way to talk about the douchebags you used to work with. I LOVE IT!”

Not surprisingly, the Hospital was none too pleased with this post, and issued Corlis a written warning for violating Rule 16 of the Values and Standards of Behavior. Corlis filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB, alleging that the discipline interfered with her Section 7 rights.

The Board agreed with Corlis and upheld the Administrative Law Judge’s finding that the rules violated the NLRA.  The Board found that employees could reasonably construe the rules to prohibit them from taking actions such as criticizing managers,  publicly protesting unfair labor practices,  and complaining about terms and conditions of employment to third parties.

If Mrs. Wilbourne were still teaching today, I’d tell her that she’d better consult counsel before sending anyone down to the principal’s office. If she didn’t, she might  find herself having to explain that funny-looking NLRB poster up on the bulletin board next to the Food Pyramid!

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