Notwithstanding the change in administrations, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) continues to be active in the non-unionized workplace, giving employers another reason to carefully review policies that affect workers, including those aimed at improving employer-employee relations. This week, an NLRB administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled that T-Mobile must dismantle its T-Voice employee committees, claiming the two-year-old groups are merely an unlawful, company-controlled "labor union."

In 2015, T-Mobile created a nationwide program called T-Voice to help address perceived problems and employee complaints in a structured fashion. T-Mobile provided financial support to T-Voice, including paid time off for selected employee representatives in support of the program.

In her analysis, the ALJ disagreed with T-Mobile's characterization of T-Voice as no more than a "suggestion box" and discredited much of the company's testimony. She stated that the company solicited and resolved "employee pain points and gave T-Voice credit for changes made." As such, the ALJ found that the T-Voice groups were labor organizations within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act, and that T-Mobile unlawfully dominated T-Voice because the employer created it, supported it financially, and determined its purpose.

The ALJ found a separate unfair labor practice in T-Mobile’s promise to improve the terms and conditions of employment if employees submitted complaints via T-Voice during an ongoing union organizing campaign. In discussing the appropriate remedy for these violations, the ALJ ordered that T-Voice be disestablished.

Of critical importance for employers with similar programs is the fact that the ALJ's findings required no evidence of anti-union animus. Employers are encouraged to carefully review their employment practices from the standpoint of compliance with federal labor law—even when evaluating programs aimed at improving employees’ work environment.

Ballard Spahr's Labor and Employment Group routinely helps employers review such policies and practices in light of applicable laws.


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