Q: Name calling, gossip, and rudeness are counterproductive in the workplace, so can’t we prohibit any such activity by our employers?
A: Generally, no. The issues with rules of this kind are twofold; they tend to prohibit some protected activity, and they contain a subjective element and therefore may mean different things to different people. As far as protected activity, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that employees cannot be prohibited from discussing pay, hours, and working conditions. Gossip, and to a lesser extent name calling and rudeness, could stem from discussions on pay, hours, and working conditions, and therefore prohibitions on these items, if not very narrowly tailored, can get employers into hot water. Additionally, name calling, gossip and rudeness are all things that can be interpreted differently based upon the hearer. This makes these kind of rules hard to apply uniformly if, again, they are not narrowly tailored.