EU Labor and Employment

The European Union is launching new privacy and data protection rules in May 2018. This new regulatory framework, known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is known to have a substantial extra territorial reach (also likely to apply to every US organization processing personal information of even a single individual in the EU) and

The highest court of the European Union recently issued two judgments allowing employers to ban the visible wearing of political, philosophical or religious signs at the workplace (Judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union in case C-157/15 and in case C-188/15). If you have a policy in place for your EU-based employees that touches upon the wearing of political, philosophical or religious signs, you should verify whether that policy is in line with this latest interpretation of the principle of equal treatment.

On 14 March 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled that “an internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination”. The two cases concerned the dismissal of two women for wearing the Islamic headscarf, which was prohibited by the employer. The Court decided that wearing the Islamic headscarf could be banned without constituting discrimination, but only as part of a general policy barring all religious and political symbols. Furthermore, that policy must have a legitimate aim such as, for example, pursuing neutrality in the relation with customers. Lastly, such a policy must be achieved through appropriate and necessary means.

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The surprising EU perspective

Drafting a global social media policy is a balancing act. Employers need to protect their legitimate business interests, but must do so with respect for the employees’ rights to freedom of expression. Striking the right balance depends on the legislation in force in the different countries where your company is active. Compared to the strong focus on protecting employees’ rights in the scrutiny of social media policies in the US, social media policies can go much further in protecting legitimate business interests in Europe. If you have a US company that is active in Europe, you may want to rethink your social media policy for your European entities.

In the US, the standard for what is allowed to be included in social media policies is largely shaped by the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”), which is responsible for enforcing the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). The NLRB has given a broad interpretation to the employees’ right to engage in concerted activities under Section 7 of the NLRA. The NLRB finds provisions of social media policies unlawful if they would have a chilling effect on the employees engaging in the activities protected under Section 7. This leads to provisions being struck down by the NLRB because of their wording or for being overly broad.

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