Labor Violation In Aisle 5

The Costco Company is the latest employer to have part of its social media policy shot down by the NLRB. The provision at issue was set out in the Costco Employee Handbook. It provides:

Any communication transmitted, stored or displayed electronically must comply with the policies outlined in the Costco Employee Agreement. Employees should be aware that statements posted electronically (such as [to]online message boards or discussion groups) that damage the Company, defame any individual or damage any person’s reputation, or violate the policies outlined in the Costco Employee Agreement, may be subject to discipline, up to and including termination of employment.

Sounds kind of innocuous, right? And Costco said it adopted the rule to promote civility. But in the eyes of the NLRB, the rule interfered with the employees’ rights to “engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection.” In other words, employees are allowed to talk to each other (even online) about their working conditions. And those conversations may not always be polite. In the NLRB’s judgment, the rule could chill those discussions. And that’s a problem. The NLRB has taken a hard line on this issue. If you’re thinking about adopting a social media policy, you need to take this in account.