AT&T Mobility Must Dial Back Workplace Privacy Rule

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By Lawrence E. Dubé

Wireless provider AT&T Mobility must rescind a workplace privacy rule at all of its U.S. facilities, an NLRB administrative law judge ruled ( AT&T Mobility, LLC , 2017 BL 135686, NLRB ALJ, No. 05-CA-178637, 4/25/17 ).

The company’s “privacy of communications” rule prohibits employees from recording telephone calls or other conversations, and the company warned a Maryland sales associate about being held “accountable” under the rule after he recorded a 20-minute disciplinary meeting without management approval.

AT&T has important concerns about customer privacy, but its policy is overly broad and interferes with employees’ labor law rights, ALJ Arthur J. Amchan said April 26.

The decision, which may be appealed to the full National Labor Relations Board, draws on NLRB precedents that faulted employers for adopting policies that appeared to prohibit workers from engaging in legitimate action for their mutual aid or protection.

Union Steward’s Recording

Marcus Davis is an AT&T sales associate and a steward for Communications Workers of America Local 2336, which represents AT&T workers in Washington, D.C., and suburban Maryland.

In his steward role, Davis attended a meeting where the company presented a termination notice to another employee. Davis made an audio recording of the meeting on his personal mobile phone and a company-owned phone, without telling management.

Acting on a store manager’s suspicions, AT&T officials confronted Davis, who admitted to the recording. The company counseled the CWA steward, citing a rule that employees may not record “telephone or other conversations” with co-workers, managers or third parties unless approved in advance by the company’s legal department

An area sales manager warned Davis and Local 2336 in an email that employees were not permitted to record conversations in AT&T stores. Davis filed an NLRB charge challenging the company’s actions.

Rule Overbroad

Amchan said AT&T has a compelling interest in protecting customer’s “network” information such as call patterns and usage and personal information, including credit card data, but AT&T’s “rule is overbroad and thus illegal.”

AT&T can protect customers by adopting a narrower rule against recording conversations that refer to customers’ network and financial information, the ALJ said.

However, he wrote, the board has held that a rule against recording phone calls, images or company meetings violates the right of employees to investigate and document employment issues in the workplace. “My experience as an NLRB judge for 20 years confirms that assessment,” Amchan said.

Amchan recommended the board order AT&T to rescind its privacy of communications rule. He also recommended the company be ordered to refrain from impliedly threatening employees with discipline for violations of the rule.

An AT&T representative did not immediately respond to an April 26 request for comment on the decision.

NLRB atttorney Paul J. Veneziano in Baltimore represented the NLRB general counsel. Stephen J. Sferra and Jeffrey A. Seidle of Littler Mendelson P.C. in Cleveland represented AT&T Mobility LLC.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lawrence E. Dubé in Washington at ldube@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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