“No Gossip Policies” Deemed Overly Broad When Prohibiting All Communications About Anyone

On December 11, 2013, the Laurus Technical Institute And Joslyn Henderson case was decided before The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Division Of Judges in Atlanta’s Branch Office. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decided that for-profit technical school’s “No Gossip Policy” violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The ALJ also held that an employee’s termination under the policy violated the Act.

In this case, the complaint alleged that Laurus Technical Institute (Respondent) violated Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA because it maintained and enforced an overly broad “No Gossip Policy”. The complaint also alleged that Joslyn Henderson’s, the Charging Party, suspension and termination for allegedly violating the “No Gossip Policy” and engaging in protected, concerted activities was illegal.

The Respondent is a for-profit technical school with 3 campuses and provides post-secondary technical education in medical/allied health programs, heating, ventilation and air conditioning and other technical fields to individuals as an alternative to traditional 2 or 4-year colleges. The incident given rise to this lawsuit happened in one of the 3 campuses where Ms. Henderson worked as an admission representative. Prior to commencing this action, Ms. Henderson filed a charge against Respondent with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2011, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation by one of the managers working at Laurus Technical Institute. Later on, the Charging Party also presented the President of Laurus Technical Institute with a letter alleging additional harassment, hostile work environment and retaliation issues in connection with her prior EEOC charge. However, because the President of Laurus Technical Institute did not answer Ms. Henderson’s complaints to her satisfaction, and was upset about it and discussed it with one of Laurus’ managers who was not in her chain of command.

Laurus’ President orally forbade Ms. Henderson from discussing work issues and complaints with anyone except her supervisor and him. At the time, Laurus’ President threatened to terminate anyone in the company if he or she did not abide by this code of conduct. Therefore, Ms. Henderson was prohibited from discussing work issues with other managers, as well as any of her coworkers. Afterwards, the company decided to implement a “No Gossip Policy” and send it out to all its employees. The policy stated that: “employees that participate in or instigate gossip about the company, an employee, or customer will receive disciplinary action” and described gossip as “an activity that can drain, corrupt, distract and down-shift the company’s productivity, moral, and overall satisfaction. It has the potential to destroy an individual and is counterproductive to an organization.”

The ALJ concluded that the school’s Policy violated Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA because “the language in the no gossip policy is overly broad, ambiguous, and severely restricts employees from discussing or complaining about any terms and conditions of employment”, which is contrary to the language of the NLRA. The ALJ also noted that the Laurus’ No Gossip Policy “narrowly prohibits virtually all communications about anyone, including the company or its managers” in violation of the NLRA.

If you are an employee and you believe you have been discriminated against and/or retaliated against, please contact the Harman Firm, LLP.