In its ongoing effort to crush what’s left of organized labor in this country, the NLRB has ruled that employers can tell you who and who not to spend your free time with:
It is a regular pastime for co-workers to chat during a coffee break, at a union hall, or over a beer about workplace issues, good grilling recipes, and celebrity gossip. Yet a recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) allows employers to ban off-duty fraternizing among co-workers, severely weakening the rights of free association and speech, and violating basic standards of privacy for America’s workers.
So how did the NLRB decide to weaken fundamental workplace protections? Security firm Guardsmark instituted a rule directing employees not to “fraternize on duty or off duty, date, or become overly friendly with the client’s employees or with co-employees.” In September 2003, the Service Employees International Union filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB against Guardsmark, claiming that the company’s work rules inhibited its employees’ Section 7 rights.
Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act grants workers the right to “self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations…and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection…” While the law allows employers to ban association among co-workers during work hours, Guardsmark’s rule was broader in that it applied to the off-duty association of co-workers.
On June 7, 2005, the Board ruled 2 to 1 that Guardsmark’s fraternization rule was lawful.1 The Board majority argued that workers would likely interpret the fraternization rule as merely a ban on dating, and not a prohibition of the association among co-workers protected by Section 7. But the dissenting member of the Board pointed out that since the rule already mentions dating, workers would understand fraternization to mean something else. She noted, “the primary meaning of the term ‘fraternize…[is] to associate in a brotherly manner’…and that kind of association is the essence of workplace solidarity.”