You may not like the idea of employees grousing to each other in the breakroom about their knucklehead managers or the new health care plan. But don’t try to silence such behavior with a broad no-gossip policy.
As this new case shows, you could run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which makes it unlawful to punish workers for complaining about pay, perks or other work conditions. The NLRA gives all employees—even those in nonunion workplaces—the right to engage in “concerted activities … for the purpose of mutual aid and protection.”
Recent case: A Georgia college fired a worker for violating its no-gossip policy. The policy defined gossip, among other things, as “creating, sharing, or repeating a rumor about another person” and “talking about a person’s professional life without his/her supervisor present.”
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the termination was unlawful, saying the policy is “overly broad, ambiguous, and severely restricts employees from discussing or complaining about any terms and conditions of employment.” (Laurus Technical College, NLRB 10-CA-093934)
Advice: Instead of a no-gossip policy in your handbook that could get you in trouble (and employees will probably ignore anyway), a better solution is to do some employee training about the type of respectful behavior you expect of them.
Online resource: These days, more workplace gossip is being conducted online than around the watercooler. Read four tips for HR on taming the gossip beast.