The National Labor Relations Board General Counsel’s Division of Advice has concluded that an employer could refuse to allow a union’s representatives to record monthly team meetings and investigatory interviews. GE Appliances, Haier, 21-CA-202535 (Div. of Advice, Apr. 17, 2018, released May 15, 2018). The Division found the refusal was lawful based upon the Board’s long-standing policy disfavoring verbatim recordings of meetings between employers and unions for collective-bargaining purposes.

GE Appliances, Haier, sells and repairs home appliances and parts nationwide. The employer’s service technicians, who are represented by a union, work from their homes and are dispatched on service calls to homes and businesses. The employees’ manager conducts monthly in-person team meetings with the technicians. In addition, union representatives are asked to attend any meetings where investigatory interviews take place that could lead to the discipline of the interviewee.

In late-2016, the employer conducted an investigatory interview with a bargaining unit member over time card discrepancies. During the subsequent grievance process, the union asserted that typewritten notes the employer’s manager had prepared during the initial meeting were incomplete. It also separately asserted that the manager regularly announced policy changes during monthly team meetings. Therefore, the union requested it be allowed to record team meetings and investigatory interview meetings because those meetings could “threaten the rights of each employee.” The employer refused the request.

The Advice Division found the refusal did not violate the NLRA. The Division explained that the Board has had a long-standing policy of prohibiting audio recordings of bargaining negotiations and grievance meetings because of the potential to hamper open communications. The Division found the request to record team meetings and investigatory interviews implicated the same adverse effects on the bargaining process. It was concerned that the union’s express purpose of recording the meetings — to preserve the manager’s statements to later impeach him — could have a chilling effect on informal resolution of workplace disputes.

Finally, the Division noted the request here did not implicate the Section 7 rights of individual employees to record conversations, which arguably could be protected under certain circumstances. Rather, the request was made by the union on behalf of its representatives. Thus, there was no need to evaluate the employer’s response under the Board’s workplace rule guidance in The Boeing Co., 365 NLRB No. 154, slip op. (Dec. 14, 2017). Accordingly, the Division advised that the charge be dismissed, absent withdrawal. Based on a review of the publicly available docket, it appears that the union withdrew the charge in April.

The Division’s advice memorandum slightly expands upon the types of meetings in which a union may not make audio recordings. Now, not only may an employer refuse to consent to such recordings during a grievance meeting, but also it may lawfully refuse the union’s request in connection with meetings that could result in a later grievance meeting, such as the investigatory meetings at issue here. Furthermore, the memorandum reminds both employers and unions that the Board’s policies reflect the view that the collective bargaining relationship works best when open, informal communication is used.

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Photo of Howard M. Bloom Howard M. Bloom

Howard M. Bloom is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has practiced labor and employment law representing exclusively employers for more than 36 years.

Mr. Bloom counsels clients in a variety of industries on labor law issues. He trains and advises executives, managers and supervisors on union awareness and positive employee relations, and assists employers in connection with union card-signing efforts, traditional union representation and corporate campaigns, and union decertification campaigns. He also represents clients at the National Labor Relations Board in connection with bargaining unit issues, objections and challenges, as well as unfair labor practice investigations and trials. Mr. Bloom also has been the spokesperson at countless first and successor contract collective bargaining negotiations, and regularly advises on collective bargaining agreement administration issues, including grievance/arbitration issues.

Mr. Bloom has appeared before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, several U.S. District Courts, the National Labor Relations Board, the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Mr. Bloom speaks frequently to employer groups on a wide range of labor and employment law topics. He also has written extensively on labor and employment law for a variety of publications, including New England Business magazine, The Boston Globe and the Boston Business Journal. He also is editor of and a frequent contributor to the Jackson Lewis Labor & Collective Bargaining Blog.

While attending law school, he was the Executive Editor of The Advocate: the Suffolk University Law School Journal and President of the Student Bar Association.

Mr. Bloom is a diehard baseball fan. His first book, The Baseball Uncyclopedia: A Highly Opinionated Myth-Busting Guide to the Great American Game, was published in February 2006.

Photo of Philip B. Rosen Philip B. Rosen

Philip B. Rosen is a Principal in the New York City office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and a member of the Firm’s Management Committee. Mr. Rosen also leads the firm’s Labor Practice Group. He joined the Firm in 1979 and served as Managing Partner of the New York City office from 1989 to 2009.

Mr. Rosen lectures extensively, conducts management training, and advises clients with respect to legislative and regulatory initiatives, corporate strategies, business ethics, social media, reorganizations and reductions-in-force, purchase/sale transactions, sexual harassment and other workplace conduct rules, compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, wrongful discharge and other workplace litigation, corporate campaigns and union organizing matters, collective bargaining, arbitration and National Labor Relations Board proceedings. He has been quoted by the press on many labor matters, including the National Labor Relations Board’s recent initiatives on protected concerted activity and the proposed Notice Posting requirements.