The General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Jennifer A. Abruzzo, issued guidance on March 22, 2023, about the NLRB’s McLaren Macomb, 372 NLRB No. 58, decision from February 21, 2023, which reinstated a limit on the confidentiality, non-disclosure, and non-disparagement clauses that employers may include in severance agreements with most of their lower-level employees. While not law, the General Counsel’s guidance is intended to address the uncertainty among employers regarding what language is deemed acceptable to include in severance agreements and what language may create liability under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) following McLaren Macomb.
The McLaren Macomb decision specifically held that employers may not condition severance on the employee’s waiver of rights protected by the NLRA and that agreements between employers and employees that restrict employees from engaging in activity protected by the NLRA or from filing unfair labor practice (ULP) charges with the NLRB, helping other employees in doing so, or assisting during the Agency’s investigatory process are unlawful. The NLRB observed that the employer’s offer is itself an attempt to deter employees from exercising their statutory rights, at a time when employees may feel they must give up their rights in order to get the benefits provided in the agreement. It also provided that the conduct of an employer is irrelevant to assessing the lawfulness of a severance agreement, and the plain language of the severance agreement alone can constitute a violation. While the Maclaren Macomb decision has been described as a return to the standard applied in earlier cases, many speculate that it indicates that the NLRB intends to take a broader view of how severance agreements infringe on employees’ rights under Section 7 of the NLRA.