PORTLAND, Maine — An administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board found wireless provider T-Mobile was wrong to require employees not to discuss ongoing internal investigations, including sexual harassment claims, with anyone but the investigators.
The decision stems in part from a case at a call center in Oakland, Maine, where a former employee represented by the Communications Workers of America filed a sexual harassment complaint and was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement.
The employee raised issue with the terms of the agreement, including being subject to termination if found to have violated any portion of the terms, which involved keeping the names of those subject to the investigation and communications with investigators private.
Judge Joel Biblowitz wrote in his decision that a reasonable person could interpret the policy as limiting their legal right to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment.
Annie Garrigan, a spokeswoman for T-Mobile, said the company is considering challenging the decision from the NLRB’s branch office in New York, which would send it for further hearings before the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C.
“We find the Administrative Law Judge’s decision puzzling since T-Mobile’s approach to confidentiality is consistent with the National Labor Relations Board’s own investigation manual,” Garrigan wrote in an statement. “Best practices for maintaining the integrity of internal investigations include keeping the names of witnesses confidential and requiring witnesses to maintain confidentiality in order to ensure that information provided by subsequent witnesses is not tainted.”
The policy indicated that employees should keep all communications with the investigator confidential as well as all names of the employees involved in the investigation.
The order, issued Aug. 3, would require T-Mobile to notify employees in Oakland and at another facility in South Carolina that they are free to discuss pending investigations within 14 days.
The company has until Aug. 31 to file a challenge to the order, which would head to the full board for a decision.