Monday, March 19, 2007, 3/19/2007 12:28:00 PM

D.C. Circuit Holds Cintas Corp.'s "Confidentiality" Policy Violates the NLRA

By Todd
Although not technically a trade secrets policy, a corporate policy that required employees of Cintas Corp. to maintain the confidentiality of information about the company and its workers interfered with the rights of employees under the National Labor Relations Act to discuss
the terms and conditions of their employment, the District of Columbia Circuit holds (Cintas Corp. v. NLRB, D.C. Cir., No. 05-1305, 3/16/07).

The Cintas handbook "confidentiality" policy in question read: "We honor confidentiality. We recognize and protect the confidentiality of any information concerning the company, its business plans, its partners, new business efforts, customers, accounting and financial matters." The Cintas handbook also contains a disciplinary provision that could apply to violations of this confidentiality policy.

On review, the NLRB board affirmed the administrative law judge’s decision, saying an employee could reasonably interpret the handbook’s language to mean they didn’t have the right to discuss the terms of their employment. The board thus ordered Cintas to either rescind the disputed language or distribute revised handbooks with the appropriate substitutions. Upholding the ruling of the National Labor Relations Board, the court agrees that Cintas committed an unfair labor practice under the NLRA simply by publishing its policy on confidentiality, even though the rule did not expressly forbid protected discussions, and even though there was no evidence that the rule was used to prohibit legally protected activity.

This decision is sure to get some heavy press from the labor & employment bar.

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