NLRB May Outlaw Captive Audience and Other Mandatory Meetings

On April 7, 2022, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo circulated a memorandum to all Field offices, expressing her intention to ask the Board to deem “captive audience meetings,” where employees are required to listen to employer presentations concerning the exercise of collective bargaining rights, a violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). GC Abruzzo believes that these meetings are unlawful because they threaten employees with discipline or other adverse consequences “if they exercise their protected right not to listen to such speech.”

GC Abruzzo acknowledges that her position contradicts almost 75 years of NLRB precedent, as first pronounced in the 1948 decision of Babcock & Wilcox Co.  However, GC Abruzzo sees this precedent as “an anomaly in labor law” which requires correction because it licenses employer coercion.  GC Abruzzo opines that “when employees are (1) forced to convene on paid time or (2) cornered by management while performing their job duties” regarding the subject of statutory labor rights, they reasonably believe that they will be punished if they do not render themselves a “captive audience,” whether or not the employer’s presentation or speech includes explicit threats.

Accordingly, GC Abruzzo will call upon the Board to “adopt sensible assurances that an employer must convey to employees in order to make clear that their attendance [at such meetings] is truly voluntary.”  GC Abruzzo has not announced when she intends to petition the NLRB on this subject, although she stated that she will provide “further guidance and argument” in a brief to be submitted “shortly.”

Stay tuned to Stevens & Lee’s Labor and Employment Law Center for further updates as developments impacting employee rights and employer obligations continue to develop under the NLRA and other federal, state and local traditional labor laws.  If you have any questions about how this, or any other, labor and employment law development may affect your business, please contact Daniel J. Sobol at daniel.sobol@stevenslee.com, Alexander V. Batoff at alexander.batoff@stevenslee.com, or the Stevens & Lee attorney with whom you regularly work.

This News Alert has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be construed as, and does not constitute, legal advice on any specific matter. For more information, please see the disclaimer.

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