Your Company’s Confidentiality Policy May Violate Federal Law

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T-Mobile’s Confidentiality Agreement is called into question

Some companies have policies that prohibit employees from discussing internal investigations. Such policies are meant to protect employers. But they may violate employee rights outlined by federal law.

The National Labor Relations Board recently said T-Mobile should not have required employees to sign a confidentiality agreement that prohibited them from discussing a company investigation. Specifically, the agreement said:

“Employees should maintain the confidentiality of the names of the employees involved in the investigations, whether as complainants, subjects or witnesses, throughout the pendency of the investigation, and you should only disclose such information to T-Mobile Corporate Investigators, Human Resources personnel or counsel for T-Mobile, unless permitted by law. You should keep confidential all communications between you and the lnvestigator(s) concerning this matter throughout the pendency of this investigation unless permitted by law.”

The opposition stems from a sexual harassment complaint filed by a T-Mobile employee in Maine. Angela Agganis of Waterville, Maine filed a complaint against the company on October 9th, 2015 with the U.S. District Court in Portland. Agganis’ case against T-Mobile included her accusation of the company subjecting her to a hostile work environment based on her gender, and statements against her male supervisor who was responsible for what she describes as unlawful treatment to include violations of the company’s “no-touching” policy and other incidences that threatened her ability to perform the job and/or caused her to miss work.

In order for Agganis to file a claim, she was also required to file a confidentiality agreement and would be disciplined by the company if she failed to follow these terms. After Agganis signed the agreement, she left the company due to T-Mobile’s failure to provide a safe environment following the harassment and fear of retaliation from her supervisor. T-Mobile must provide a statement to this claim within a month of the complaint.

In response to the to T-Mobile’s confidentiality agreement, the Communication Workers of America filed an unfair labor practice charge. In August, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled that the policy requiring the agreements at T-Mobile violated U.S. labor laws.

This policy violates the National Labor Relation Act, the judge ruled, because the agreement could be construed as preventing employees from talking about matters that concern the terms and conditions of their employment. That is protected activity under Section 7 of the NLRA.

In addition to this ruling, 20 lawmakers also wrote a letter to T-Mobile’s parent company in Germany, Deutsche Telekom, expressing concerns over the treatment of workers in the United States. The letter reads:

“Your July 14th response to the letter that we sent you on June 29th seemed to indicate that you are not taking this issue seriously, so we were seeking additional information about your familiarity with the American legal issues at stake with your politics and practices regarding labor complaints.”

The concerns about T-Mobile’s treatment of employees extends past the company policy. In a 2014 trial in Kansas, T-Mobile admitted that it had developed a system to monitor for potential union activity and respond by deterring attempts at unionization. The regional National Labor Relations Board found four separate instances where T-Mobile managers had unlawfully discouraged union activities within the company.

In cases of employee rights, some major companies are in need of more scrutinizing attention when it comes to good management practices and policies. What’s good for both the employee and employer is even better for the community.

Do you believe you or someone you know has been wronged in the workplace? Entrust your case to the employee rights experts at Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A., where the worker comes first. Contact us today.



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