The employer terminated Stout for interfering with the personnel issues of another employee, citing to a policy in its employee handbook that prohibited "insubordination or other disrespectful conduct." The NLRB found that Stout's phone call was inherently protected activity given its subject matter and, therefore, that the employer's termination of Stout was unlawful. Additionally, the NLRB found that the employer's handbook provision was unlawfully overbroad, in that it could be read to (and in fact was used to) chill protected activity.
The Board's decision echoes prior decisions in which it has held that certain topics of discussion – including wages and job security – are inherently protected. In light of these decisions, employers should proceed with caution when considering disciplining employees in situations where such topics have been raised. The Board's ruling makes clear that even if an employee has engaged in conduct that a reasonable employer might find improper or unprofessional, an employee's right to engage in protected activity may outweigh the employer's right to discipline.