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Starbucks’ ‘overbroad’ workplace civility rule oversteps NLRA, Board rules

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Dive Brief:

  • Starbucks Corporation’s leveraging of its civility rule — as outlined in the coffee company’s workplace handbook — violated labor law, the National Labor Relations Board held in a ruling published Aug. 9.
  • The ruling outlined Starbucks workers’ complaints of anti-union activity. From February to May 2023, Starbucks allegedly threatened workers at six stores with loss of benefits and the ability to transfer or fill in for other workers. Leadership also “coerced employees into attending captive audience meetings” and began cracking down on dress code policies.
  • NLRB said Starbucks upheld a broad civility rule called “How We Communicate,” along with discharging a couple of employees in retaliation for Workers United activities, along with other protected concerted activities.

Dive Insight:

The NLRB recently shifted the tide regarding workplace civility rules. In Stericycle, an NLRB board member underscored how civility rules have “threatened to chill” worker expression. The main takeaway was that some workplace policies are vague enough to be read as prohibiting activity protected by the National Labor Relations Act.

Stericycle, which came Aug. 2, reversed the NLRB’s 2017 ruling in Boeing, which relaxed scrutiny of employer handbooks.

Among other recommendations, a remedy notably put forth by the NLRB for Starbucks was to take back the “overbroad” workplace policy, “How We Communicate” — and to notify Starbucks employees that it had been recalled.

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