There is often a lot of discussion regarding how we handle gossip and rumors. While these things can certainly be toxic to an organization, the way the organization handles them can violate federal law.
While the National Labor Relations Act defines protected, concerted activity in Section 7 as related to union activity and discussion, the National Labor Relations Board has taken a very broad approach to interpreting this section. In fact, Section 8 of the Act prohibits employers from interfering with an employee’s right to engage in concerted activity, which generally includes an employee’s right to discuss the terms and conditions of employment (i.e., wages, hours, or workplace conditions) with other employees or on behalf of a group of employees. This includes disciplinary action, schedules, and any other workplace issues.
If employees are engaging in any discussion that involves any workplace conditions and we stop them from doing so, or include it in any counseling, we may be in violation of the NLRA. However, if employees are engaging in gossip that relates to federally protected classes (race, color, religion or creed, national origin, sex, age, physical or mental disability, veteran status) we have not only the right, but the obligation to intervene.
In short, we cannot enforce policies that prohibit gossip or rumor unless it involves non-work related protected class issues. If you have any questions, or need assistance in determining when, how, and under what circumstances you can intervene, please let me know.