On March 22, 2023, the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or the “Board”), Jennifer Abruzzo, issued a memorandum providing guidance in light of the NLRB’s recent decision in McLaren Macomb, 372 NLRB No. 58 (2023). As previously reported, the Board in McLaren Macomb held that overly broad non-disclosure and non-disparagement provisions in severance agreements violate employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or the “Act”). The General Counsel’s memorandum—which is directed to the Board’s regional offices over which she exercises supervisory authority—seeks to clarify the scope of the McLaren Macomb decision, including: the types of provisions that may violate the NLRA; language that may be acceptable in light of the decision; whether the decision applies retroactively to previously executed severance agreements; and the potential applicability of the decision to supervisors. The memorandum is not legally binding, but it does give employers a more informed roadmap for how the Board initially will handle unfair labor practice (“ULP”) charges challenging severance agreements.
Over the past 40 years, the National Labor Relations Board has grappled with the appropriate balance between an employer’s right to discipline an employee for abusive behavior and an employee’s right to engage in Section 7 activity. Much to the dismay of employers, this balancing act has historically tipped heavily in favor of protecting an employee’s right to engage in Section 7 activity at the expense of an employer’s right to discipline its employees for conduct such as using racial slurs while picketing, engaging in sexist behavior, or yelling obscenities at a supervisor while discussing wages.
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