Acton Institute Powerblog

Feds: It’s Illegal for Your Boss to Require You To Be Positive All the Time

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always-be-positive-quote-1Does your boss require you to be pleasant and cheerful? Do they expect you to maintain a positive workplace environment? Are you being asked to conduct yourself in a manner that is conducive to effective working relationships?

If so, your company may be violating your rights.

In their employee handbook its employee on “Workplace Conduct”, the wireless carrier T-Mobile included the clause:

Employees are expected to maintain a positive work environment by communicating in a manner that is conducive to effective working relationships with internal and external customers, clients, co-workers, and management.

In a lawsuit against the company, a group of employees included the claim that the undefined phrases “positive work environment” and “communicating in a manner that is conducive to effective working relationships” are ambiguous and vague, and would “reasonably chill employees in the exercise” of their right to unionize.

The judge who heard the case disagreed and recommended dismissal of the allegation. But the National Labor Review Board (NLRB) reversed the judge’s decision, saying employees at T-Mobile would “reasonably construe the rule to restrict potentially controversial or contentious communications and discussions, including those protected by Section 7 of the Act, out of fear that the Respondent would deem them to be inconsistent with a ‘positive work environment.’”

In other words, employees can’t always be expected to be positive at work because it would interfere with their right to unionize. The NLRB has a lengthy explanation for their reasoning (and yes, it’s as absurd as you imagine).

You might think that workers could discuss unionizing without “arguing” in the office (which the NRLB says is protected behavior). But apparently that’s not the case.

So the next time your boss tells you to smile and stop arguing with your coworkers, just remind her that according to federal rules you have a right to remain surly.*

*Reminder: Despite what the NRLB says, Christians are expected to conform to a different standard (Col. 3:23-24).

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).