The National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) issued a decision on July 21, 2020, which will aid employers in their ability to discipline or discharge an employee who engaged in abusive or offensive conduct in connection with protected concerted activity. In General Motors LLC, 369 NLRB No. 127 (2020), the Board modified its standard for determining under what circumstances profane language or sexually or racially offensive speech loses the protection of the National Labor Relations Act (the “Act”).
Before today, there were several circumstance-specific standards used by the Board in determining whether an employee was lawfully disciplined or discharged when they made profane, racist or sexually harassing comments in connection with Section 7 activity. There was one standard for workplace confrontations with supervisors or managers as applied in Atlantic Steel. A second standard was used for examining social media posts and most other interactions between employees, referred to as the “totality of circumstances.” Still, another standard was used when offensive statements or conduct occurred on the picket line, as set forth in Clear Pine Mouldings. All of these standards assumed that the employee’s Section 7 activity was inseparable from the abusive comments and conduct. Additionally, in many circumstances the outcome of those cases conflicted widely with an employer’s obligations under federal, state and local discrimination laws.