Ensure Your Employee Handbook is a Tool (Not a Weapon) in Business and at Work


The story this week about the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) case against Quicken Loans is a cautionary tale underscoring the need for employers and HR practitioners (inside and outside of organizations) to ensure that employee handbooks undergo regular legal review by reputable employer-side labor lawyers (e.g., at least an annual legal review; and more frequent-than-annual legal review as changes in federal and state law / regulation occur). Employee handbook review by a lawyer who does not specialize in employer-side labor law is not a sufficient legal review.

The basis of the NLRB’s case against Quicken Loans are the provisions in Quicken Loan’s employee handbook limiting the free speech of their employees, which the NRLB claims is in violation of the federal National Labor Relations Act, as outlined in the Associated Press story:

The NLRB complaint brought earlier this year said Quicken overly restricted employees’ free speech and should rewrite its rules for workers and educate employees about their rights.

The handbook cautioned employees against speaking to media and restricted conduct Quicken deemed damaging to its interests. The complaint said the rules violated the National Labor Relations Act, which permits workers to discuss pay and other policies for organizing for collective bargaining.

NLRB attorney Patricia Fedewa described the rules as “overly broad,” saying they “chill” the right to discuss forming a union.

Perhaps even more distressing is the testimony of Quicken Loan’s executives that they never used the handbook and that it was eventually discarded by the executives after distribution. As a further response to the case, the CEO of Quicken this past week declared the employee handbook rescinded.

Like good strategic plans, employee handbooks should be clearly written, easy to understand and succinct as legally possible – which must include the approval thereof by a reputable employer-side labor lawyer.  When properly and legally executed, a good employee handbook protects the interests of both the employees and the employer – e.g., New York state laws supporting breaks for nursing mothers and time off to vote, or to donate blood or bone marrow. Without these critical factors, the distribution, communication and administration of the employee handbook is at best useless – and at worst, the employee handbook is a target for third-party compliance agencies like the NLRB to levy fines against employers to fulfill their budgetary needs.

How will you ensure that your employee handbook is a tool (not a weapon)  supporting the success of everyone in business and at work?

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