SANTA CLARA, CA – According to new complaints filed with the National Labor Relations Board by a fired activist, Apple Inc.’s restrictive employee handbook rules and CEO Tim Cook’s recent pledge to punish leakers both violate U.S. law.
Former Apple employee Ashley Gjovik alleged that an all-staff email from Cook, saying that “people who leak confidential information do not belong here,” violated the National Labor Relations Act, which protects U.S. workers’ right to communicate with one another and engage in collective action about workplace issues.
In his email, Cook wrote that Apple was “doing everything in our power to identify those who leaked,” and “we do not tolerate disclosures of confidential information, whether it’s product IP or the details of a confidential meeting.” His email followed media reports about a companywide internal meeting the week prior at which management fielded questions about topics such as Texas’ anti-abortion law and pay equity.
Gjovik’s filings also challenge what she says are several policies in Apple’s employee handbook that illegally interfere with workers’ rights, such as restrictions on disclosing “business information,” talking to reporters, revealing co-workers’ compensation or posting impolite tweets.
Gjovik was fired by Apple in September. Apple claimed she was terminated for violating policies such as the disclosure of confidential product information, but Gjovik claims she was fired in retaliation for filing complaints with state and federal agencies such as the NLRB, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Claims filed with the NLRB are investigated by regional officials. If they find merit in the allegations but can’t secure a settlement, they then issue a complaint on behalf of the labor board’s general counsel, which is then considered by an agency judge. Rulings can be appealed to the NLRB members in Washington before making their way to federal court.
Now that Democratic appointees with union backgrounds make up the majority of the labor board’s members, many believe that complaints and cases such as these have a greater chance of success. Jennifer Abruzzo, the agency’s new general counsel, has expressed interest in challenging related precedents set by the previous Republican majority, such as a 2017 ruling involving Boeing that some company policies’ potential negative impact on employee rights could be outweighed by legitimate business rationales.