Almost every employee handbook contains statements pertaining to the “at-will” status of employees. But recent actions by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) indicate that such employment clauses are beginning to come under fire. Recently, the American Red Cross Arizona Blood Services Region was found by an administrative judge to have violated labor law by including a provision in the employee handbook stating that the at-will employment relationship could not be modified in any way. The provision was found to be illegal because it could be interpreted to mean that employees were barred from union-organizing activities since unionizing would change that at-will employment status.
A similar case arising from a complaint by acting general counsel for the NLRB, Lafe Solomon, involved Hyatt Hotels Corp. and involved a charge that that company’s at-will clause was overly broad. The argument was the same as the Arizona case stating that the clause could be interpreted as banning union organizing. Both the Red Cross and Hyatt agreed to amend their handbooks to clearly explain the rights for employees to organize.
Though this all seems rather nitpicky, most employers should be able to implement an easy fix to their handbooks in order to avoid the ire of the NLRB and others. The fix is simply to include a paragraph affirming the employees right to organize. The fact that the NLRB had never previously questioned such at-will acknowledgements could signal a new crackdown on the unclear workings of employee handbooks.