While there are no First Amendment free speech rights in the private workplace, employees do have great latitude to discuss working conditions and union-related matters under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Modify company policies that overly restrict employee communications, and make sure that managers understand employees' NLRA rights.
Don't prohibit employees from talking about unions and union organizing while working, if employees are allowed to have non-work-related conversations while working.
Don't prevent employees from talking about their pay with one another, even though it might lead to discord if some employees feel they should be earning more.
Don't fire an employee to prevent them from discussing wages, discrimination, etc., with their co-workers. An employer that acts to prevent concerted protected activity — to "nip it in the bud" — violates employees' Section 7 NLRA rights.
Don't restrict employees from speaking to the media about protected activities. A broad policy prohibiting employees from releasing statements to the news media without prior authorization and a provision specifying the executives who are authorized to speak to the media can be read as restricting employees from speaking to the media about protected activities. Do narrow the scope of the policy by:
- prohibiting the release of information that is confidential, proprietary, etc.;
- specifically stating that the policy does not prohibit employees from exercising their Section 7 rights; and
- listing authorized personnel who may make statements "on behalf of the company" or who may provide "official statements" to the media. This way, you are not restricting employees from making personal statements.
Employers Must Watch Their Communications
On the other side of the coin, the NLRA restricts employers in what they can and cannot say in response to union organizing activity.
Do state facts, which can include educating employees on the disadvantages of joining a union and reminding employees about their current benefits that were not a result of union negotiations.
Don't threaten or imply job loss, reduced benefits, etc., to coerce employees not to support the union.
Don't promise or provide a benefit if employees do not vote in the union. This is also a form of coercion.
Don't make promises you can't keep or tell employees what you think they want to hear.