Fighting For
Employee And Union Rights
Fighting For
Employee And Union Rights

Does My Employee Handbook Interfere With My Rights?

On Behalf of | Aug 31, 2023 | Employment Law

It’s your first day on the job and the employer hands you a copy of the employee handbook to review.  Maybe they leave you with a copy; maybe they don’t.  You’re happy to be employed and you are ready to get to work—the employee handbook is the last thing on your mind.  Besides, there’s probably nothing in there that could be considered controversial, is there?  After all, an employer wouldn’t put anything in the handbook that could be illegal, right?

Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the case with many employee handbooks including language that may violate the rights of employees.   For example, employee handbooks sometimes include work rules that are very broad, poorly worded, or otherwise written in legalese. Those work rules oftentimes threaten employees with discipline for a wide assortment of activities—some of which involve activities that workers have the right to engage in.  Examples of language that can be illegally broad include rules that prohibit insubordination, prohibit unauthorized phone use, or restrict workers from interfering with production or influencing others to do so.

In early August, the National Labor Relations Board altered the framework for assessing questionable employee handbook rules with their decision in Stericycle v. Teamsters Local 628. The new framework will make it harder for employers to argue that their rules are lawful and legitimate.


Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives employees the right to participate in labor organizations, to choose representation, and engage in activities that help and protect themselves and their fellow employees.

While Section 7 provides workers with rights, Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA protects those rights by making it an unfair labor practice for an employer to interfere, restrain, or coerce employees from enforcing their rights.  Interference, restraint, and coercion can all be accomplished through the employee handbook. When rules are overly broad, workers are unsure of what the rule is or is not prohibiting or requiring. This can cause issues for a mistreated worker with a work  rule prohibiting her from speaking up.


The old framework leaned in favor of employers by considering the employer’s purported justifications for the work rule.

The new framework is favorable to workers and interprets rules from the perspective of a reasonable employee who is economically dependent on her employer. If an employee is reasonable and economically dependent, it is fair to assume that they may think a broad rule, like “no unauthorized breaks” excludes them from talking to a union rep or participating in a strike.

With this framework, the employer would have to prove that the rule is legitimate, has substantial business interest, and that the rule is narrowly tailored, meaning the rule cannot be changed because their business interest will be impacted. This will be a difficult burden for employers to prove and therefore a win for workers’ rights nationwide.


Some of these rules are rooted in efforts to interfere with union activity. If your job is not unionized, you still have a right under the National Labor Relations Act to join a union or organize collectively. Your employer is prohibited from interfering in your efforts to unionize. Additionally, if you are disciplined or fired under one of these unlawful employee handbook rules, your rights under the NLRA have been violated.

If you suspect your labor union rights have been violated,  Miller Cohen, P.L.C., can help you bring an action before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) or the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.

Stand up for your rights. Our Michigan law firm has built its practice on protecting workers’ rights from unscrupulous employers. With more than 50 years of experience representing labor unions, we are well-prepared to handle your case. Contact Miller Cohen, P.L.C. Call our office in Detroit at 313-566-4787 for a free consultation.