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Deploy the Girl Scout Cookie Offensive to Ward Off Labor Unions

April 2, 2013
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Related Topics: Wrongful Discharge, Unions, Policies and Procedures, Legal
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NewsOK reports that some employers have started banning their employees from promoting their kids' fundraisers at work. At least one story has gone viral about a mom fired for hawking her daughter's Girl Scout cookies to coworkers:

Tracy Lewis … was called into her boss's office while working as a retail service manager for Bon Appetit, which provides various food services to the American University campus. Lewis claims her boss told her she was being fired for selling the cookies for her 12-year-old daughter's Girl Scout troop out of her food cart, even though Lewis says she has done so for the past three years with no reprimand.

This reaction may not be as outrageous as you might think. In fact, there is a great legal reason to ban Girl Scout cookie sales and other similar solicitations in your workplace. As crazy as it sounds, it might prove to be one of your best weapons against a union organizing campaign. The catch is that you need both a sufficient broad no-solicitation policy, and the enforcement of it in a non-discriminatory manner.

A lawfully drafted and sufficiently broad no-solicitation policy prohibits anyone from soliciting during work time and in work areas. To the contrary, an overly restrictive policy would either ban union-related communications on its face, or operate to treat union-related communications differently than similar non-union solicitations.

The former is easy to spot. What does the latter look like?

Consider an employer with a strict no-solicitation policy that ignores Girl Scout cookie sales or March Madness brackets. If that employer disciplines an employee for engaging in union-related solicitations, has it enforced its no-solicitation policy discriminatorily?

The answer depends on whether the exceptions are so common that they swallow the rule, or are merely isolated incidents.

  • For example, in United Parcel Service v. NLRB, the 6th Circuit concluded that because employees "routinely distributed such materials as fishing contest forms, football pool material, and information about golf tournaments," the employer could not enforce its no-solicitation rule against union-related distributions.
  • However, in Cleveland Real Estate Partners v. NLRB, the same court concluded permitting occasional and sporadic distributions did not demonstrate discriminatory enforcement of a no-solicitation rule.

I am immune to the charms of the Girl Scout cookie. While I love a Thin Mint as much as next person, my son has Celiac Disease, so I avoid bringing into my home glutened treated that he can't enjoy. For the rest of you, however, consider whether permitting your employees to sell cookies or engage in other innocent solicitations is worth the risk that if a union organization drive rears its head, you will be left powerless to engage one of your key weapons—the no-solicitation policy.

Written by Jon Hyman, a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. For more information, contact Jon at (216) 736-7226 or jth@kjk.com.

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