We noted in a recent blog post at the national pro-workers’ Devadoss Law Firm the protections accorded federal employees who speak up against management misconduct or other workplace deficiencies that promote harassing and discriminating environments.
And we underscored this: They come with limits.
That circumscribed character was notably on display in a unanimous ruling issued recently by a panel from the National Labor Relations Board. The outcome is widely perceived by commentators to reflect a pulling back from a prior standard allowing workers broad speech prerogatives in the wake of alleged workplace wrongs.
A recent Bloomberg article stresses that, prior to last month’s decision, the board largely endorsed derogatory speech from workers decrying workplace conditions, “especially if the comments were provoked by management’s misconduct.”
Now the board says it went too far and that its recent ruling spells “a long-overdue change” necessitated to curb excessive worker tirades and to better enable management to discipline workers’ overly offensive remarks and abusive behavior.
The new standard, as paraphrased in the Bloomberg piece, is this: companies’ expanded ability to freely take action against what they deem over-the-top statements and conduct “as long as the government can’t prove management was motivated by hostility towards protesting or organizing.”
Business groups are understandably pleased with the ruling.
Conversely, labor advocates’ ire and concern couldn’t be more evident. Critics of the ruling fear that it will simply open the way for companies to punish workers they view as problematic, even when those employees are raising bona-fide workplace concerns.
“It’s a way of thwarting speech, and it’s a way of thwarting activism,” says one union principal.