Tiffany & Company, the famed jewelry store, has a confidentiality policy that states, among other things, that its employees are prohibited from publicly disclosing other Tiffany employees’ contact information, including their names, addresses, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses. Though Tiffany is a non-union workplace, its policy recently came under scrutiny by the federal National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after it received a complaint that the policy could interfere with an employee’s federally protected right to make the workplace better. Tiffany countered that employment records are proprietary to the company, and allowing public disclosure of personal contact information could violate the privacy rights of its employees.Tiffany’s policy was recently deemed unlawful. According to the NLRB, the policy could prevent an employee of Tiffany from sharing co-worker information with a prospective union potentially looking to organize the workforce at Tiffany. There was no evidence presented of any such union activity afoot at Tiffany, but the NLRB found that the mere existence of the confidentiality policy might chill an employee from collaborating with a union to organize at Tiffany. The NLRB did caution that an employee would not be permitted to unlawfully access Tiffany’s employment records to get the contact information. But if the employee was able to obtain employee contact information in the normal course of work, Tiffany cannot have a policy that prohibits the employee from publicly disclosing that information.
This is yet another case that reflects a growing trend in decisions by the NLRB of clamping down on companies that seek to restrict employees’ public discussion of workplace matters. Companies need to carefully review their handbook and employee contract provisions to make sure they can withstand legal scrutiny by the federal government.