Under federal labor law, employees involved in a labor dispute with their employer have the right to seek assistance from the company’s customers. On August 14, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rejected a claim from employees that this right means that employers cannot maintain a rule that prohibits employees from using or disclosing confidential customer information obtained from company records during the course of their employment.
In Macy’s Inc., the employer maintained a work rule that prohibits employees from disclosing confidential customer information contained in its business records, including Social Security numbers, credit card information and customer contact information. Macy’s employees filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB, alleging that the rule interferes with their right to engage in concerted activity because it could be interpreted as stopping them from contacting customers to support organizing activities or other challenges to terms and conditions of employment. The NLRB’s general counsel took the position that the SSN and credit card elements of the policy were valid, but that Macy’s policy against disclosure or use of customer contact information was overbroad.
In a 2-1 decision, the NLRB disagreed, overturning an administrative law judge’s opinion declaring the work rule invalid. The Board interpreted the policy as only prohibiting employees from using customer contact information obtained through the company’s business records. Employees would not reasonably interpret the policy to prohibit customer contacts obtained from different sources. The dissenting Board member believed that the policy could be interpreted by employees to prohibit customer contact for any purposes.
Any policy restricting use by employees of customer information should limit this restriction to information contained in the employer’s business records. A more general prohibition against customer contacts could violate employees’ Section 7 rights.