Psst … Here’s the buzz on your ‘no gossiping’ policy

Psst … Here’s the buzz on your ‘no gossiping’ policy

Could your veterinary practice’s gossip policy get you in hot water with the National Labor Relations Board? Maybe.
Feb 15, 2018

As technology and drama intrude on your peaceful workplace, you might feel driven to create and implement a “no gossip” policy for your practice. While I empathize with the effort to squash unnecessary chatter, hurtful and disparaging remarks, and unfounded—or inaccurate—Facebook posts, this policy isn’t legal, and you need to remove it from your employee handbook.

The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency that protects the rights of private sector employees to improve their wages and working conditions—rights that were written into the original National Labor Relations Act of 1935. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act states, “Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all such activities.”

What does this mean? It means that your employees, when acting in a group or on behalf of a group, have a protected right to speak in the workplace or outside of it—including on social media—about working conditions, employee treatment and wages. Any language that deters such activity, by way of a veiled threat or direct consequence, violates an employee’s Section 7 rights. Additionally, if your policy is so vague that an employee could interpret it as violating a Section 7 right, you could be fined.

This doesn’t mean that employees have a protected right to spread rumors or reports of an intimate or nonwork-related nature. It simply means that you need to word policies and discipline carefully.

Dallas-based attorney Laura Calhoun, JD, partner with the Albin Roach law firm, is board-certified in labor and employment law. She suggests eliminating the word "gossip" from your policy and instead creating an anti-bullying policy. Define bullying and describe the consequences. As a safety net (although this doesn’t mean you can’t be fined), include a comment that nothing about the anti-bullying policy is intended to restrict an employee’s Section 7 rights.

Key takeaways:

1. Employees must act in a group or on behalf of a group to be protected.

2. Employees are protected only when discussing working conditions, treatment of employees and wages.

If the speech doesn’t meet either of these requirements, it’s probably OK to follow your progressive discipline policy. If you have a specific scenario where you need legal advice, contact an attorney who practices in the areas of labor and employment law. For more information on Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, visit the National Labor Relations Board website.

Katie Adams, CVPM, is director of curriculum development at IGNITE Veterinary Solutions.