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T-Mobile's 'Positive Work Environment' Policy Is Valid

By William Vogeler, Esq. on July 28, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As T-Mobile fought cell plan wars on television, the company quietly waged another battle with its employees.

The National Labor Relations Board had sided with the workers, saying the cellular company was trying to keep them from unionizing. The battle plan was right in the employee handbook, the board said.

In T-Mobile USA v. National Relations Labor Board, however, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said the company was just urging workers to get along.

"Positive Work Environment"

The board had found the workplace conduct policy, which encouraged employees to maintain a "positive work environment," violated the National Labor Relations Act because it discouraged protected activity, including candid, potentially contentious discussions of unionizing. The court said the board's reading was unreasonable.

"The rule refers to a positive work environment and effective working relationships, and requires employees to behave in a way that "promotes efficiency, productivity, and cooperation," with the obvious implication "with respect to work," Judge E Grady Jolly wrote for the unanimous court.

The judges said the rule addressed a normal workplace on a normal workday, and rejected the board's finding.


The board also faulted the company for its "commitment-to-integrity" policy, saying it would inhibit robust discussion of labor issues. Like the workplace conduct rule, the Fifth Circuit said, it was only "a common sense civility guideline. "

The court said the policy, which prohibits "arguing or fighting," "failing to treat others with respect," and "failing to demonstrate appropriate teamwork," is a conventional, common-sense admonition. T-Mobile expects its employees to "to exercise integrity, common sense, good judgment, and to act in a professional manner," the judges said.

However, the panel said T-Mobile's broad ban against recording workplace activities did violate protected activity under the NLRA. It reflected a trend against similar employee policies, requiring employers to narrowly draw prohibitions against recording in the workplace.

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