John O'Connor
John O’Connor

Let’s say your organization prohibits employees from discussing wages or work schedules. And let’s say one of your employees just trampled all over that rule.

Would you reprimand said person? Or eliminate the prohibition? Turns out that if you carried out the first option, you might soon find yourself in hot water.

The kind of hot water a senior living operator in Kansas is now swimming in.

You see, Legend of Hutchinson did have a policy against such discussions among employees. And it took action against a worker who broke the rules. For that, the operator now finds itself in the National Labor Relations Board’s crosshairs.

The NLRB claims the operator’s policy violates the National Labor Relations Act. (Legend of Hutchinson is a part of Wichita, KS-based Legend Senior Living.)

According to the NLRB, Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act guarantees employees “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

While shared discussions about wages and hours are not specifically addressed, the part about “concerted activities” for “mutual aid or protection” conceivably could be interpreted to mean as much.

As this is being written, an investigation into the charge is continuing.

Most recently, company officials were asked to quickly submit a written account of the facts, along with a statement reflecting their position on the matter.

My strong suspicion is that the firm’s attorneys will have a field day eviscerating any and all allegations here. For by any reasonably measure, it would appear the accusations are taking some real liberties with what’s on the books.

Then again, the NLRB is not interpreting much in management’s favor these days. And by “much,” I mean pretty much anything. Given the board’s current bias, a shakedown would appear more likely than a fair shake.

So this might be a good time to revisit your organization’s HR manual. “Thou shall not” directives are clearly out of style and are probably best eliminated wherever possible.

Yes, such actions are a bit extreme. But trust me, being forced to lawyer up will be far more expensive. Just sayin.’

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.

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