Quicken Loans under fire: Can firms prohibit employee complaints?

The National Labor Relations Board has filed a complaint against the mortgage giant Quicken Loans that could echo throughout the business world.

Andrew Harnik/AP/File
A worker cleans the sidewalk in front of the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Aug. 5. The National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint that accuses the mortgage giant Quicken Loans of overly restricting its employees' free speech and has called on the company to rewrite its rules. The complaint is scheduled to go before a federal administrative law judge in Detroit, where the company is headquartered, on Nov. 2.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed a complaint that accuses the mortgage giant Quicken Loans of overly restricting its employees' free speech and has called on the company to rewrite its rules.

The complaint is scheduled to go before a federal administrative law judge in Detroit, where the company is headquartered, on Nov. 2.

The Detroit Free Press reports that the case “could have long-ranging effects on what workers are allowed to say about their companies on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.”

Quicken's employee handbook, known as the Big Book, cautions workers against speaking to reporters and restricts activity the company deems damaging to its interests.

Quicken denies the accusations and plans to fight the complaint, which company spokesman Aaron Emerson described as “completely absurd.”

"Quicken Loans stands firmly behind its common-sense employment policies,” he told The Associated Press, adding that the company “will fight this baseless case and strongly believes justice will prevail.”

The complaint says Quicken’s employee rules violate the National Labor Relations Act. Established in 1935, the law grants workers the right to discuss pay and other workplace policies for the purpose of collective bargaining. Rather than seeking monetary damages, the NLRB wants the company to rewrite its handbook.

The Detroit Free Press reports that the complaint against Quicken highlights the NLRB’s recent focus on free speech issues. The federal agency settled earlier this year with Wendy's International, the fast-food chain, over employee rules it says restricted speech both face-to-face and on social media.

In a March 18 memo obtained by the Free Press, Richard Griffin, the NLRB’s general counsel, said that "employees have a ... right to discuss wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment with fellow employees, as well as with non-employees, such as union representatives."

Marick Masters, the director of labor studies at Wayne State University, said the NLRB usually allows companies to protect their trade secrets but not to ban the discussion of more routine matters such as salaries.

"Their tendency is to take a pretty dim view of policies that are over-broad," Professor Masters told The Associated Press. "If you tell an employee that they can't complain to other employees about their working conditions, you're going to get in trouble for that. If you tell an employee that they can't talk to people on the outside about their working conditions, you're going to get in trouble for that."

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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