Gagging Workers off the Job
August 16, 2005
Noam Chomsky likes to refer to corporations as dictatorships, and while that might seem a little strong, your rights as an employee are few and far between.
And they just got fewer and farther.
The National Labor Relations Board issued an order on June 7 that upheld a policy of a security company called Guardsmark. That policy tells workers they cannot “fraternize on duty or off duty” or become “overly friendly” with fellow employees.
The union there, the SEIU, challenged this policy on the grounds that it might ban workers from discussing labor issues on their own time.
The Republican-dominated board didn’t go along with that, saying this wouldn’t be a “reasonable” interpretation of the language banning fraternizing.
But there’s an even larger issue here than union talk, which should be guaranteed by the Wagner Act, anyway. What right does a company have to make a broad ban on the “fraternizing” of employees off duty? What, exactly, does “overly friendly” mean?
As Harold Meyerson pointed out in The Washington Post, it would be one thing if the company outlawed sexual relationships among employees as a way to protect itself against harassment suits. But it’s another thing to ban “fraternizing” itself.
As Meyereson asks, “What about meeting up in a neighborhood bar after work? Going over to Ed and Joanie’s for dinner and some poker?”
Or how about going to the wedding of a co-worker or a co-worker’s kid?
Is that evidence of being “overly friendly”?
The NLRB suggests those wouldn’t be “reasonable” interpretations, claiming that the rule is meant to prohibit only “personal entanglements.”
But that’s not what the rule actually says, and “personal entanglements” is an awfully broad term, too.
With Guardsmark, the NLRB has now set a precedent, and it’s a bad one.
Today, you have fewer rights on the job and off than you did a couple months ago.