Requiring Employees to "Stay Positive" Might be Overstepping Bounds

Mandi Liston
May 23, 2016

Thanks to the mathematicians over at, it has been determined that about one-third or 30 percent of human life is spent working. The average working week in the United States consists of 40 hours of work. Most people take a few holidays every year. On an average, most people spend about 25 to 30 years of their lives working. Armed with this knowledge, it would appear to be in the best interest of both employers and employees to make the most of those years. However, if you happen to find yourself having a bad day at work, it is now your legal right to do so.

The National Labor Relations Board recently found that a clause expecting employees at T-Mobile to maintain a “positive work environment” was too restrictive, and therefore unlawful.  The rationale was that, in context with other unlawful provisions, the clause would put an employee’s right to organize in danger (it is your legally protected right to organize a union!) because most organization stems from negative situations. It is important to note that the ruling does not prohibit employers from requiring, for example, an employee act professional. They just can’t require an employee to be happy about it. 

Positivity in the workplace is important, though. Sarah Rense at Esquire stated that “[p]ositivity is, of course, good for the workplace, and in today's environment, negativity is terrible PR… Good publicity (and productivity) stems from happy worker stories.”  This is very true. Business owners cannot legally force employees to be happy all the time, but this ruling creates an incentive to createa positive work environment.  The ruling does not take away an employer’s right to create a positive work environment with traditional methods such as benefits or free snacks.  It only takes away the ability to require positivity through restrictive employee handbook language. 

McNamara law firm can help business owners who want to encourage a professional work environment, but also need to know whether their current handbooks comply with the recent ruling by the NLRB.  We can also help employees who are unsure whether or not their rights are infringed upon by restrictive employee handbook language. We know that a positive work environment is important to business owners and employees alike, and we’re here to help you (legally) achieve that goal!