Can’t we all just get along?

December 6, 2017|Brad DeLeeuw

Teamwork is a necessary function in businesses everywhere across the country, and working well together is often an expectation. Can we expect employees to get along?

Of course we can, even if we have to make you!

When I was a kid my brothers and I were, let’s say, a little troublesome at times. There were many meals where we were sent, at my father’s direction, to separate parts of our home to eat in isolation. Evidently getting into fits of uncontrollable laughter, slinging pieces of food across the table like tiny missiles, and generally pestering each other wasn’t the ideal setting for a relaxing family dinner. As my father stated, sharply, the dinner table was a time to be respectful, enjoy each other’s company, and most important, get along! I digress…

So, how do we get everyone to embody a positive environment in the workplace?

Well, thanks to a ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, it’s perfectly fine to have company policies that “strongly encourage” employees to work together in harmony. In 2014, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) brought a complaint against one of the top five telecommunication companies in the U.S. The National Labor Relations Act protects employees who engage in activities related to organizing or improving work conditions. It is illegal for employers to interfere in such cases. The NLRB alleged the company’s policy requiring employees to maintain a positive work environment violated that very act.

The company’s handbook had language in it that “encouraged employees to maintain a positive work environment,” prohibited “arguing or fighting,” prohibited “all photography and audio or video recording in the workplace,” and required “respectful treatment and appropriate teamwork.” The NLRB held the position that all of those items violated the act because they discouraged unionizing.

However, the 5th Circuit held that the NLRB got it wrong. Essentially, it was clear that there was no indication that the company rules were designed to prevent protected activity. The court went on to say that “a reasonable employee would be fully capable of engaging in debate over union activity or working conditions, even vigorous or heated debate, without inappropriately arguing or fighting, or failing to treat others with respect.”

But what does this all mean?

Well, a couple of things. First, the ruling takes a position of support for the company’s policies and policies like it. If you’ve been fearful in the past to have policies like this, it’s a win in the sense that you should now feel perfectly comfortable having language like this in a policy or handbook.

Second, and more broadly, it is seen as a move in the right direction by many businesses. The current administration, love it or hate it, is more business-friendly than we have seen in the past. Knowing that and taking into account the recent ruling, we can expect that the NLRB may have to reconsider many of its recent positions and rulings regarding workplace policies and shift them in favor of businesses.

Schenck’s knowledgeable team of human resources consultants has extensive experience in policy design and creation. If you need support, please contact us for assistance by emailing us at hrconsulting@schencksc.com.


Brad DeLeeuw, senior human resources consultant, has more than 10 years of experience performing a wide variety of human resources functions, including creating company policies, recruiting, designing employee benefit plans, and facilitating employee training.