United States: Boomerang: The Trump NLRB Supplants The Obama NLRB

When Donald Trump took office in 2017, the members of the NLRB ("Board")1 were predominantly appointees of President Obama. During the Obama presidency, the Board issued decisions that were mostly favorable to the interests of organized labor and its employee-members. Those decisions reversed years of Board precedent that had been relied upon by employers as they formulated company policies and made decisions about their relationships with employees and the unions representing them. The changes in the law made during this period have been described as "radical." These new decisions changed what employers were allowed to put in their employee handbooks, took away employers' rights to restrict employees' use of their email systems, and forced employers into joint employer relationships with the independent contractors performing work for them. The union movement was pleased.

In 2017, President Trump named Peter B. Robb as the new General Counsel to the Board, replacing the former Obama appointee and beginning the Trump transformation of the Board. The General Counsel has significant responsibilities at the Board, including determining which cases will be prosecuted by the agency, and what theories of law will be advanced. In December 2017, Robb issued a memo to Board offices around the nation, instructing the offices to send certain cases to Washington, D.C. for advice on how they should be handled.

In his memo, Robb advised the offices that it was mandatory that they seek his office's advice on matters involving "cases over the last eight years that overruled precedent," an undisguised announcement that he intended to undo eight years of Obama-inspired NLRB law.

At the same time, as the terms of Obama-appointed members expired, Trump appointed new members to the Board who had a vision different than that of their predecessors.

Trump appointees now dominate the Board and are guided by a General Counsel with a clear agenda to undo the work of the Obama Board. The employer community is excited. Is the Trump Board and its General Counsel living up to employers' expectations? As the following sections of this article demonstrate, it would seem so.

EMPLOYEE HANDBOOKS AND WORK RULES

A number of decisions issued by the Obama Board strictly applied a standard developed in 2004 that held that, when judging the legality of provisions of employee handbooks or work rules, either will be found to be illegal if employees could "reasonably construe" the policy or rule to somehow prevent them from exercising their rights under federal labor law. That very "flexible" definition was taken to its extremes by the Obama-appointed General Counsel at the time. It seemed that almost no handbook or work rule was safe from attack because some employee might "reasonably construe" it to interfere with his or her rights. During that period, many employee handbook policies were found illegal, including, for example, rules that forbade camera-enabled devices such as cell phones on an employer's property, rules that prohibited criticizing an employer on social media, and rules restricting the making of recordings in the workplace.

In December 2017, the new Trump Board issued a decision in The Boeing Company, 365 NLRB No. 154 (2017). Boeing had a long-held policy that prohibited the taking of pictures on its property. The purpose of the policy was to maintain the security of Boeing's facilities and its proprietary information. Specifically overruling prior decisions, the Trump Board held that it would no longer judge employee handbook rules by the very fluid standard of finding a policy unlawful if an employee could "reasonably construe" a rule as somehow unlawfully restrictive of lawful conduct.

In doing so, the Board noted that "over the past decade and one/half, the Board has invalidated a large number of common sense rules and requirements that most people would reasonably expect every employer to maintain." In Boeing, the Board said that, in the future, it would consider the "nature and extent" of a challenged rule's "potential impact on [employee legal rights]" and the "legitimate justification associated with the rule." The Board then laid out three categories the Board would use in future analysis of workplace rules.

Boeing makes it possible now for an employer to determine if a rule is legal, without the need to speculate if an employee could "reasonably construe" the rule to be illegal. The Boeing decision brings enormous relief to human resource directors across the nation who had been spending an inordinate amount of time trying to decide if any of its company's rules were unlawful and litigating over rules that the Board considered a violation of employee rights.

MICRO UNITS

In another Obama-era decision, the Board held that if a union petitioned for an election among a specific group of employees, no matter how small the group, and those employees shared a "community of interest" among themselves, the Board would let an election proceed in that specific unit unless the employer could prove that other employees, not included in the unit shared an "overwhelming" community of interest with the petitioning group, an almost impossible standard to meet. The harm of allowing these "micro-units" to be formed is that some employees, working for an employer in the same location, sometimes even if they are working with another like group, could be represented by a union and their coworkers would not be represented. Micro units create divisions in the workplace, undermine retail operations, and limit opportunities for employees who need to move easily across various aspects of an employer's operations to gain advancement. The Trump Board, in PCC Structurals, Inc., 365 NLRB No. 160 (2017), ended this foolishness and returned to the traditional community of interest standard that had been the rule during most of the Board's history.

JOINT EMPLOYERS

The most reviled decision of the Obama Board was its decision in Browning-Ferris, 362 NLRB No. 186 (2015), which loosened the standard for determining whether two separate employers should be considered "joint employers" and thus share each other's labor law liability and bargaining obligations to a union. Under Browning-Ferris, an employer could be considered a joint employer with one of its contractors or franchisees even if it merely had "indirect and unexercised control over the other party." The traditional standard before Browning-Ferris required that an employer have "direct and immediate" control over the employees of another employer, such as setting the wages, hours, and working conditions of a franchisee's employees, to be covered as a joint employer. The Obama Board's revision of the standard to "indirect and unexercised" control put most national fast food chains at risk for liability for the acts and conduct of their franchisees, even those located thousands of miles from corporate headquarters.

After a couple of false starts involving issues of whether the Trump Board's members should hear a particular case that would have served as the vehicle for reversing Browning-Ferris and returning to the traditional standard, the Board decided to change the law through Rule Making, a process of issuing rules governing a certain issue rather than a decision following litigation. Not surprisingly, the Board's proposed rule returns the law on joint employer to its traditional form.

USE OF EMPLOYER EMAIL

In Purple Communications, 361 NLRB No. 126 (2014), the Obama Board determined that employees should be allowed to use their private employer's email system to discuss and further unionization. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups argue that the decision takes away an employer's right to control its own email systems.

This issue is currently up for consideration in Caesars Entertainment Corp, 28-CA-060841. The Board has invited the public's input on this issue and has set an October deadline for comments before it decides the case. Because of recent comments submitted in a footnote to a brief by the General Counsel in another case, it is expected that he will argue to the Board that Purple Communications should be reversed because the decision ignores the facts of the workplace and because there are First Amendment concerns about forcing an employer to pay for speech on its own email systems that it might oppose.

MORE TO COME?

Of course there is. There are many other cases and policies viewed by the employer community as improper and disruptive. For example, employers are hoping that the Trump Board will revise a Rule established by the Obama Board that created "quickie" or "ambush" elections, requiring that elections be held almost immediately after a petition is filed, effectively denying an employer the time necessary to inform its employees of the consequences of unionization. The Board, of course, will have to wait for cases raising these issues, before it can address them. Ever since the Regan Administration there have been reversals of decisions by Democratic and Republican administrations alike. However, nothing before compares to what the Obama Board did and, of course, the Trump Administration is determined to undo much of the Obama Board's work.

Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Morrison & Foerster LLP. All rights reserved

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions