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Fired worker ordered reinstated after NLRB finds no-gossip rule 'overly broad'

Fired worker ordered reinstated after NLRB finds no-gossip rule 'overly broad'

A Georgia technical college unlawfully terminated an employee on the basis of its “overly broad” no-gossip policy, says the National Labor Relations Board, which has ordered the worker's reinstatement and the policy's withdrawal.

Joslyn Henderson worked as an admissions representative for Decatur, Georgia based Laurus Technical Institute, a private, for-profit technical school, according to a Dec. 11, 2013 ruling by an administrative law judge in Laurus Technical College and Joslyn Henderson, which was affirmed by three members of the NLRB board on Friday.

In 2011, Ms. Henderson filed a charge against the school with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging sexual harassment and retaliation by one of the school managers.

She was subsequently chastised by the school's CEO for discussing her work issues and complaints with a manager who was not in her chain of command.

Nine days later, on Feb. 22, 2011, the school issued a “no gossip policy” that said in part, “Employees that participate in or instigate gossip about the company, an employee, or customer will receive disciplinary actions.”

Ms. Henderson was subsequently promoted to senior admissions representative. On Oct. 29, 2011, however, while she was out on unpaid medical leave, another worker reported she had talked negatively about the company and some of its workers, and had become “verbally aggressive.” Ms. Henderson was suspended on Oct. 29 and terminated on Nov. 12 for “willful breach of company polices and counterproductive behavior.”

Laurus' no-gossip rule “on its face prohibits protected activity,” said the administrative law judge's ruling. Its language is “overly broad, ambiguous and severely restricts employees from discussing or complaining about terms and conditions of employment,” said the ruling.

“A thorough reading of this vague, overly broad policy reveals that it narrowly prohibits virtually all communications about anyone, including the company or its managers.

“In fact, read literally, this rule would preclude both negative and positive comments about a person's personal or professional life unless that person and/or his/her supervisor are present.” Such a policy on its face violates the National Labor Relations Act, says the ruling.

In its ruling Friday, the NLRB ordered Laurus to rescind its policy, offer Ms. Henderson reinstatement to her former job or an equivalent position, and reimburse her for any loss of earnings or other benefits she had suffered.