Question: We have a friendly, laid-back office environment, and we want our employees to enjoy coming to work. However, we have some employees who are constantly gossiping at the office. Aside from not getting their work done, they’re also creating tension among co-workers. What can we do? I thought we weren’t allowed to prohibit employee discussions, but this is really starting to affect our operations.
Answer: Employers have the right to maximize the effectiveness, productivity and profitability of their businesses, and they should not let office gossip undermine their operations. Employers can enforce policies requiring that employees be professional and not disruptive at work, and they can appropriately discipline employees for policy violations. If employee discussions are permeating the workplace and causing disruption to business operations (for example, employees are not performing their jobs), then an employer should take disciplinary action consistent with its policies and procedures.
That said, an employer’s policy must not restrict its employees’ ability to discuss their terms and conditions of employment, including wages and benefits. Such discussions among employees are protected under the federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which applies to unionized and nonunionized workplaces alike and prevents employers from interfering with employee rights. Specifically, the NLRA protects employees’ right to discuss their wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment for their mutual aid or protection. Any employer policy prohibiting employees from discussing their wages or terms and conditions of employment with co-workers could violate the NLRA.
Thus, employers should work with their attorneys to develop policies that protect their legitimate business interests while not infringing upon employee rights, including those under any applicable provisions of state and local law. An employer’s policy should be announced in advance of implementation to give employees an opportunity to ask questions about the policy. Discipline, up to and including termination
of employment for particularly egregious or reoccurring violations, should be imposed consistently to avoid claims of discrimination.
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