Join 3,562 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Big Brother Nixes Happy Hour
July 29, 2005 3:34 PM   Subscribe

Big Brother Nixes Happy Hour National Labor Relations Board Green Lights Ban on Off-Duty Fraternizing Among Co-Workers It is a regular pastime for co-workers to chat during a coffee break, at a union hall, or over a beer about workplace issues, good grilling recipes, and celebrity gossip. Yet a recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) allows employers to ban off-duty fraternizing among co-workers, severely weakening the rights of free association and speech, and violating basic standards of privacy for America's workers.
posted by jackspace (50 comments total)

 
Come on, how is this even remotely legal...
posted by odinsdream at 3:42 PM on July 29, 2005


Why would you work at a place that would ban you from hanging out with co-workers is beyond me. So much for that 'team-building' fad...
posted by schyler523 at 3:44 PM on July 29, 2005


Why would you work at a place that would ban you from hanging out with co-workers is beyond me

I dunno, schyler, maybe you have bills to pay?
posted by kenko at 3:49 PM on July 29, 2005


what
the
fuck?
posted by papakwanz at 3:55 PM on July 29, 2005


This is frightening. It's especially frightening that the ruling comes from the NLRB.

I'm betting it won't hold up in court, though.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:56 PM on July 29, 2005


This wouldn't stand any sort of federal judicial review. Interstate commerce clause would put it in the federal realm, and civil rights discrimination law would pretty easily be shown to apply. (It'd be easy to show how this could be used to discriminate racially.) Finally, there is the whole problem that it violates many labor laws designed to protect the right for collective bargaining. Not being able to fraternize with coworked makes that a bit difficult, huh?

The libertarian view is, of course, that employment is a voluntary contract and so the details of the contract should be pretty much unlimited. In reality, however, there's all sorts of things courts won't accept in contracts in general, and specifically with regard to labor.

I don't really understand how this could actually be a threat to anyone in the US. There are off-duty relationships that employers are allowed to be concerned about, I imagine this agreement just formalizes those sorts of exceptions. Maybe not, but anything egregious I can't imagine withstanding any scrutiny.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:01 PM on July 29, 2005


I work with my wife.
I'm glad I'm not in a union, but in other states, my job is unionized.
How would that work?
posted by Balisong at 4:10 PM on July 29, 2005


We should all just work and when we are burned out or not being needed anymore go into a corner and quietly die . . .
posted by nostrada at 4:12 PM on July 29, 2005


Here's the actual ruling. It seems the concern of the company is to make sure their security guard employees don't get together after work and plot various ways to rip off clients.
posted by DeepFriedTwinkies at 4:14 PM on July 29, 2005


El Stupido. How am I supposed to get promoted when I can't meet with my boss and do "ahem" special favors for her. Please.
posted by snsranch at 4:17 PM on July 29, 2005


This is really only one more step down the road we've been on for quite a while. You can tell by several of the comments that people don't understand what has been going on with labor in this country:

"especially frightening that the ruling comes from the NLRB"
"there is the whole problem that it violates many labor laws designed to protect the right for collective bargaining."
"I don't really understand how this could actually be a threat to anyone in the US."

The NLRB interprets those laws, and it is a boss' organization. The NLRB hasn't protected workers rights for decades. Pretty much the buck stops there. BTW, there is only really one labor law designed to protect collective bargaining, the NLRA.

Since we have great people like Balisong out there, who probably don't understand the concept of organizing and workplace democracy, we're not likely to have a strong enough labor movement any time soon to protect these things you consider "rights."

Remember, if you work in an "at will employment" state, you can be fired for anything other than discrimination and for violations of those few rights recognized in the NLRA. As that gets watered down, your right to work for free gets stronger and stronger.
posted by twjordan at 4:25 PM on July 29, 2005


This is appalling from a civil rights perspective, but I would quietly be thankful for a good excuse not to go out for drinks if I were still working in cubicle land.
posted by 2sheets at 4:28 PM on July 29, 2005


This is disgusting. This kind of thing is not acceptable in a free society.

Sadly, it's part of a trend. The power of workers to organize is on a long, downward trend. We're all going to be worse off for it. (Indeed, we all already are worse off for it. It's no coincidence that all of the profits to be had coming out of our last recession have completely missed the average worker, and gone straight to the very top).

Yikes. While this may be struck down, in the mean time these employee's have their freedom curtailed by a fuckhead manager that thinks his employees private life is his business. The management team that thought this up is beneath contempt.
posted by teece at 4:40 PM on July 29, 2005


The libertarian view is, of course, that employment is a voluntary contract and so the details of the contract should be pretty much unlimited. In reality, however, there's all sorts of things courts won't accept in contracts in general, and specifically with regard to labor.

To be fair, most libertarians are not extreme enough to believe in pre-Lochner jurisprudence.

And let me add to the chorus that this will swiftly be overturned in the federal courts.
posted by Falconetti at 4:58 PM on July 29, 2005


Let me rephrase that as Lochner jurisprudence.
posted by Falconetti at 4:59 PM on July 29, 2005


twjordan - Sorta. I own my own buisiness. Service/construction.
I am at an "at will employment" state all the time. Paycheck to paycheck. I have to hunt down my own work by talking to mothers/neighbors of friends.
You act like I'm living the high life laughing at all you lower types.
posted by Balisong at 5:05 PM on July 29, 2005


Sweet Lord, this is nuts. Any court case on this will have to be immediately struck down on Freedom Of Assembly grounds, so lets hope there's one quick.
posted by jonmc at 5:24 PM on July 29, 2005


This is the most surprisingly ignorant thing I've seen reported on mefi in a long while. And that's saying something, of course.

Imagine living in a country where one is afraid to catch a football game with a work mate because the boss will fire you for spending your 'off' time making social connections he doesn't approve.

So does this rule apply to the managers of this company? They are not allowed to associate with each other outside the workplace?

And people think America is a class-free society... Sure seems to be a lot folks working hard to disprove that theory.
posted by scheptech at 5:25 PM on July 29, 2005


"Freedom Of Assembly"

...well, that applies to government restriction, not private.

You need a constutional hook into regulating people's private lives, which the interstate clause and civil rights (IMO) easily provides. Off the top of my head, however, I can't think of any other Bill of Rights arguments that would prevent this. But I'm probably wrong.

Anyway, that doesn't mean there's not a lot of state and federal legislation regulating what employers can require of their employees. twojordan seems to be confusing "labor law" with "laws relating to unions". I am using "labor law" in the broadest sense.

The specific case, described earlier in the thread, might justify such a restriction. And unless it runs into the BoR, I think this specific instance will stand scrutiny. There are going to be reasonable limitations on fraternization outside of work. Restricting love affairs between managers and employees has always been allowed. Would it be okay if an executive on one company married an executive of a competing company? A whole different set of laws applies here, but I'll use it as a commonsensical example: people working in sensitive positions in national intelligence surely must be prevented from associated with a bunch of people. There's lots of companies that have gov contracts where a security clearance is required to do the job, and that will limit many things outside the workplace.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:56 PM on July 29, 2005


I should have been more clear: my point is that many, many very specific and justifiable applications of this sort of employment requirement will survive scrutiny; but anything that can be shown to have civil rights implications will run up against constitutional law; and anything broad will run up against existing state and federal law regarding employer/employee relationships. "At will" laws apply to individual relationships, not to groups--that is, there's a whole bunch of things that an employer can't regulate of employee behavior in general. "At will" doesn't mean that an employer can refuse to hire black people, for example; and it doesn't allow them to fire people because they're black. It can't stop them from firing, or not hiring, someone because they're black secretely. But if that's their policy--that is, that's why they did it--and that can be convincingly argued, they won't get away with it. If IBM tomorrow in all "at will" states started firing individual employees who are black yet claimed that they were firing them for whatever reasons and that it was "at will" employment, they wouldn't get away with it. The same sort of thing would apply to fraternization restrictions that are overly broad or unjustifiable--they'd likely run into some existing law or regulation, even in "at will" states.

What this particular ruling is about is between employers and unions. It is specifically saying that, with regard to how a business negotiates with labor unions, a business can have fraternization rules. And of course they should be able to have some, if justifiable.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:07 PM on July 29, 2005


The National Labor Relations Board is a governmental body, EB. Once they've stepped in, it becomes a case of government sacntioning corporate interference, thus it's government interference.
posted by jonmc at 6:10 PM on July 29, 2005


No, I don't think so. For practical purposes? Sure. For Constutional purposes? I don't think so.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:17 PM on July 29, 2005


Couldn't it be argued that by allowing firing on the basis of fraternization, that these private institutions are depriving these employess of their fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by cutting off their employment (pursuit of happiness) by denyng them their right to peaceful assembly.

I also have to figure that very few employers would go for these kind of tactics. Any boss with half a brain knows that camaraderie (even if it's anti-boss cameraderie) is key to building an effective workforce.
posted by jonmc at 6:37 PM on July 29, 2005


what papakwanz said
posted by scarabic at 6:50 PM on July 29, 2005


And if you wanted to give your employees a reason to start meeting secretly to plot against you, then my friend, mission accomplished. Not to mention reasons to become less productive, steal company supplies, take more sick time, and of course go work for a less fucked-up company. It might stand legal scrutiny, but it's pretty damn stupid. Treat employees like criminals before they've committed any crimes, and hey, they will do their best not to disappoint you.
posted by emjaybee at 6:51 PM on July 29, 2005


"...life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"

That's in the DoI, not the BoR. Civil liberties protections in the Constitution were not, um, meant to apply between private individuals and, until recently, they didn't. It's taken some shoehorning (that is, creative argument) to get those protection to apply to purely private relationships. And the only thing that's cut-and-dried are racial matters. Even then, all-white country clubs, for example, are allowed. I really don't see any way this comes violently and inarguably against anything in the Constitution with the possible exception of such a rule having racial consequences.

But, you know, there are state constitutions and state laws, too.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:51 PM on July 29, 2005


"It might stand legal scrutiny"

Again, I'd bet you that the only such rules that would stand legal scrutiny are rules that you and I would likely agree with. No "fraternization" between manager and managed. If you work for a bank, say, no fraternization with known criminals. I'm sure we can think of many other things. This particular case involved isolating from each other the people (security guards) who, collaboratively, could conspire to breach the security. It's not a blanket prohibition of all employees to fraternize.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:54 PM on July 29, 2005


I'm pretty sure a labor law attorney will wander by shortly. Too bad this wasn't a library-related post, though.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:59 PM on July 29, 2005


Teamwork? Yeah, right.
posted by caddis at 7:03 PM on July 29, 2005


Where's Dios when you need him?
posted by Balisong at 7:25 PM on July 29, 2005


Well, we're not talking the NSA here but regular security guards, there must a million of these people.

I wonder what mechanisms are contemplated for enforcing the rule for this many lower-level workers and what other laws may be bent in the pursuit of making sure they're not associating.

Example, many churches go out of their way to get people to associate with one another and socialize outside regular services, many in fact make a huge effort in that direction.

Would it be ok for two guards to belong to the same church or could they, legally I mean, be required to avoid churches that already contain one of their work mates? How would the law deal with that, you know, given the church and state separation, freedom of religion thing? Would the state side, legally, with the employer and actually tell them it's ok to fire two guards that attend the same church?

Side note: the original point about separating church and state was to keep the state out of the church although of course much recent discussion is related to how it applies the other way around.
posted by scheptech at 7:29 PM on July 29, 2005


the employer has too much power these days.
posted by brandz at 7:31 PM on July 29, 2005


thank you, captian obvious
posted by jonmc at 7:42 PM on July 29, 2005


Is that a new rank?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:45 PM on July 29, 2005


Have I been promoted?
posted by obvious at 8:23 PM on July 29, 2005


people think America is a class-free society

They do?
posted by mosch at 8:37 PM on July 29, 2005


Which conversation seems more likely:

"I chased off those three kids again... I think they were going to tag the stores again"

"Lets turn off all the video cameras, then rob the place and pretend those kids did it"
posted by mosch at 8:46 PM on July 29, 2005


I think one reason labor is so obscene, so depressing as a topic, is because it represents a real argument against this concept of free choice, as a way of overcoming every possible law or restriction. Yes, Brand X corn chips may now be legally sold with rat poison, heroin and razor blade fragments, but it's your right to choose another brand of corn chips. Buyer beware. Well, it's such a slow ballgame to find a new job, and so horribly painful a process, that the argument is less meaningful in those terms. Sometimes people really don't feel like they can find another job.
posted by nervousfritz at 8:49 PM on July 29, 2005


i've got to wonder how guardsmark can even think about enforcing this for 7 or 8 buck an hour employees ... security companies have a high turnover as it is

as far as people attending church or religious activities go ... seems to me that the company acting on "fraternizing" there would be an automatic religious discrimination suit
posted by pyramid termite at 9:05 PM on July 29, 2005


When you let them get away with examining your pee like a dog sniffing another dogs ass before they employ you, you have pretty much signed on for letting them do whatever the hell they want to you. Americans need to regain some dignity and start saying no to bullshit like this.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:26 PM on July 29, 2005


I'm all for senators and congressmen avoiding fraternization. If we could just get big business thrown in there too, we could elimate all the worlds evils at once.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:01 PM on July 29, 2005


Where's Dios when you need him?
posted by Balisong at 11:25 AM ACST on July 30 [!]

What, have I wandered into Bizarro World, where trolls save threads instead of ruining them?
posted by squirrel at 11:04 PM on July 29, 2005


We've been there for years, Brother.
posted by Balisong at 11:34 PM on July 29, 2005


Captain obvious wins.
posted by grouse at 4:49 AM on July 30, 2005


Seems that a lot of the more absurd rules enacted by employers are there more for the sake of possible enforcement, not absolute enforcement. It comes down to a company being able to cover itself if there's some litigation . In the above case, if some of Guardsmark's employees conspire to rip a place off, Guardmark can protect itself by pointing out that "we don't allow our employees to associate outside of work, you can't sue us".

Most employees when faced with this sort of absurdity/legal ass covering, just shrug and go on with their lives, knowing (usually )rightly that if they remain on management's good side and don't break the law, the rule won't be used against them. So what happens is this parallel system of rules is in place. The big badass legalese one and the under-the-table real and more practical one which allows for some sort of breathing space, because let's face it, no matter how much it sucks to look for work, not too many people (except for the very desperate) would last for long at a place where the above rule is actually enforced.
posted by Skygazer at 10:01 AM on July 30, 2005


furiousx sez it all. Workers in the USA have already allowed their employers to regulate their after-work recreational activities, vis a vis mandatory drug testing. It's a very small step toward interfering with all aspects of your personal life.

Someone was fired this past year for drinking the wrong brand of beer. Next up: fired for having oral sex with your wife (it's against the law in so many states)!

America used to be a workers' paradise: land of opportunity.

Now it's an employer's paradise.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:05 AM on July 30, 2005


"Collusion" isn't legal, but these aren't contractors at work, they're just workers. Lame!
posted by Down10 at 2:27 PM on July 30, 2005


So what happens is this parallel system of rules is in place. The big badass legalese one and the under-the-table real and more practical one which allows for some sort of breathing space...

Breathing space for those that the employer wants to allow it for, which is fertile potting soil for all sorts of discrimination. However this is enforced, it's bad for workers.
posted by squirrel at 7:41 PM on July 30, 2005



Absolutely right, Squirrel. It allows an employer the legal means to enforce discriminaion and worker rules that curtail basic civil rights. The arrogance of it never ceases to amaze me. It's a grotesque abuse of power. But they've got the lawyers so they can do that right??

Chalk up another victory for "freedom". Bush era style.
posted by Skygazer at 3:29 PM on July 31, 2005


Chalk up another victory that comes about because workers these days have been brainwashed into thinking unions are an altogether bad thing and think they owe their employer some sort of gratitude for the 'privilege' of having a job.

The pendulum will inevitably swing back the other way. I expect things will have to get much worse before the working class grabbaclue and get smart about the proper role of employees and employers.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:30 PM on July 31, 2005


« Older The American Islamic Leaders' "Fatwa" is Bogus...  |  "A generation ago, adult child... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments