A car dealership’s prohibition on “pins, insignias, or other message clothing which are not provided to them by the company” was deemed overly restrictive and a violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Boch Imports, Inc., NLRB, Case No. 1-CA-83551, January 13, 2014.

Beginning in December 2011, Boch Imports, Inc., doing business as Boch Honda, maintained an Employee Handbook containing several rules and policies that became the subject of an unfair labor practice charge filed on June 12, 2012 by a local of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (the Union). The Union alleged that the provisions of the Handbook were overly restrictive and therefore in violation ofSection 8(a)(1) of the NLRA, which prohibits employers from interfering with employees as they engage in concerted activity.

The Handbook sections initially objected to by the Union included provisions regulating Confidential and Proprietary Information, Discourtesy, Inquiries Concerning Employees, Dress Code, Solicitation/Distribution, and Social Media.

After an initial consultation with the a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Boch revised all of the subject provisions in 2013, other than the Dress Code provision, which prohibited employees who had contact with the public from wearing pins, insignias, or other “message clothing.”

Under NLRB precedent, a rule that curtails an employee’s right to wear union insignia at work is presumptively invalid. That presumption can be overcome only by a showing that special circumstances exist that would make such a rule necessary to “maintain production or discipline, or to ensure safety.”

Boch defended its Dress code policy by asserting that pins are a safety hazard that could injure employees and damages vehicles. It also argued that as “Number 1 on the Planet,” Boch believed that the dress code was necessary to protect its image. The NLRB agreed with the rationale regarding pins, but otherwise disagreed and found that a “message clothing” provision was overly broad and in violation of the NLRA.

As a remedy for the infraction, Boch was ordered to rescind the Dress Code policy other than the provision regarding the wearing of pins, and to disseminate a Corrected Employee Handbook. The company also was required to post a Notice for 60 consecutive days in “conspicuous places” and to assure that the Notice as not defaced or damaged. The Notice included the following language:

“FEDERAL LAW GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO: Form, join, or assist a union; Choose representatives to bargain with us on your behalf; Act together with other employees for your benefit and protection; [and] Choose not to engage in any of these protected activities.”

This language is of particular interest, since on January 6, 2014, the NLRB decided not to seek Supreme Court review of two U.S. Court of Appeals decisions invalidating the NLRB’s Notice Posting Rule, which would have required most private sector employers to post a Notice of Employee Rights, including that very language, in most workplaces in the country.

Even though the NLRB’s rule requiring that posting has been struck down, the NLRB can use its decisions related to employer actions to require that language to be posted on a case-by-case basis when employers have been found to violate the NLRA in any way, regardless of how limited or narrow the substantive violation is. Therefore, employers should be especially vigilant in complying with the NLRA, in order to avoid the double penalty of a specific notice to employees regarding the subject violation, in addition to a general Notice of Employee Rights regarding the formation of unions.