NLRB: Confidentiality, Cell Phone, Electronic Communications Policies Lawful under NLRB’s Work Rules Decisions

Applying its decisions in BoeingCo. (365 NLRB No. 154) and Caesars Entertainment Corp. (368 NLRB No. 143), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has overturned an Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ) finding that an employer unlawfully maintained overbroad Confidential Information, Electronic Communications, and Cell Phone Policies, and unlawfully terminated its employee for violation of the Cell Phone Policy. Argos USA d/b/a Argos Ready Mix, LLC, 369 NLRB No. 26 (Feb. 5, 2020).

Background

Argos Ready Mix has maintained an Electronic Communications Policy and a Cell Phone Policy since 2014, and it also required employees to sign an Employee Confidential Information Agreement.

Pursuant to the Cell Phone Policy, Argos suspended one of its ready-mix truckdrivers, Emmanuel Excellent, based on its suspicion that, against company policy, he kept a cell phone in the cab of his concrete truck while driving. Argos subsequently terminated Excellent. His union, Laborers’ Local No. 1652, then filed an unfair labor practice charge alleging all three policies to be overbroad and Excellent’s discharge to be unlawful.

NLRB Decision

The ALJ found all three policies maintained by Argos were overbroad and interfered with employees’ National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) Section 7 rights, and that Excellent’s termination under the Cell Phone Policy separately violated the NLRA. On review, the NLRB applied its Boeing Co. standard to analyze the three policies, and it completely reversed the ALJ’s conclusion.

With respect to the Confidentiality Agreement, the Board found the prohibition of employee disclosure of “earnings” and “employee information” was limited to disclosure of “Argos earnings” and “Argos employee information” and, therefore, was not unlawful.

Applying Caesars Entertainment Corp. (which reversed Purple Communications), the Board held the company’s restriction of employees’ use of its email system to “business purposes and not for personal purposes” also was lawful. The NLRB noted Argos’ office facility was a “typical workplace,” where employees can exercise traditional methods of Section 7 communications and had access to alternative means of communications other than Argos’ email system, such as personal email or social media.

Finally, the Board held that employees would not reasonably interpret the Cell Phone Policy to potentially interfere with their Section 7 rights as it was limited to prohibiting drivers’ possession or use of cell phones while operating commercial vehicles. The Cell Phone Policy made clear that its purpose was to ensure the safety of its drivers and the general public. Consequently, the Board reversed the ALJ and dismissed the allegation that Excellent was terminated unlawfully.

Further, the Board broadly held that it “designated rules that prohibit the use or possession of cell phones in commercial vehicles as lawful Category 1(a) rules” under its Boeing Co. standard, because such rules would not “reasonably be understood as interfering with employees’ Section 7 right to communicate with each other during nonwork time.” See our articleLabor Board Clarifies Boeing Work Rules Decision, Finds Confidentiality, Media Contact Rules Lawful for more on the NLRB’s categorization of rules and policies.

Argos provides valuable insight into how this NLRB will treat challenges to the legality of workplace rules involving confidentiality, safety, and the use of workplace emails by employees.

Please contact a Jackson Lewis attorney with any questions about this case or other NLRB issues.