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Why the Girl Scouts Think HR People Hate Them...

Stop me when you've heard one of these scenarios before:

-HR Team huddles to determine what to do about Mary, who has posted a flyer in the break room touting the fact she's now selling Amway on the side, and her prices are great...

-HR Managers debates how to handle the request by a local credit union to come in and do a workshop on the benefits of Credit Unions....

-HR Team gets a complaint from the floor about Fred, who is selling Girl Scout Cookies out of a suitcase located in his cube and actively approaching employees and asking for their patronage.

Why are we forced to think long and hard about these situations?  Everyone say it with me - NON-Girl_scout_cookiesSOLICITATION POLICY!!  Everyone has one in their handbooks, and I'm always surprised that a lot of HR people don't fully comprehend why those policies are there.

Still, the execution of the non-solicitation policy is more art than science.

First up, of course we don't want employees to face a daily barrage of closet entrepreneurs selling stuff in the workplace.  More importantly, the non-solicitation policy is grounded in a desire to remain union-free.  If you have a non-solicitation policy in place and enforce it, the NLRB will generally uphold your ability to prevent unions from being on your property to solicit support from employees.

If you don't have that policy, or more common, don't enforce it, the NLRB will likely allow unions to come on your property to solicit employees, since you are allowing others to solicit your employees on site as well.

The scope of the non-solicitation policy has been expanded to include email based on a recent court decision. From CBS4.com in Miami:

"Employers can prohibit workers from using the office e-mail system for union activities, so long as they prohibit solicitations from any outside organization, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled.

The board said its 3-2 decision sets a new labor relations standard that allows employers to prohibit union activity through the company's e-mail system while at the same time permitting office chitchat and personal messages.

The decision, released Friday, upheld the management of the Eugene Register-Guard newspaper in a case involving e-mail messages sent by Suzi Prozanski, a copy editor and Newspaper Guild leader, during contract negotiations in 2000 and the warnings the company gave her.

The board said two of the messages were "solicitations to support the union," and the company was justified in enforcing a policy that forbade the use of e-mail for "non-job-related solicitations." It ruled against the paper on a third message, saying it was "simply a clarification of facts surrounding a recent union event."

I hate saying no to the sale of girl scout cookies, school sales, etc.  I'm usually a "no-harm, no-foul" type of person, but every time I see one of these cases it always perks up my sensitivity to solicitation in the workplace.

I won't come out against girl scout cookies, lest I get blown out in the workplace version of the Iowa caucus.  I prefer to say yes to informal bumps in the parking lot between employees with business that gets done verbally, and no to posted flyers, the use of email to solicit, etc.      

You have to say no to some organizations you like (credit union, formal girl scout cookie marketing?) to keep the ones you don't want around your organization at bay.  That kind of stinks.... 


Michael Haberman

Remember, you can control solicitation in work areas during work time and you can control posting announcements on the bulletin board. But you cannot control soliciation in non-work areas, such as breakrooms, during non-work time, such as breaks.

Michael Moore

Your post points out the practical issues with the NLRB’s new standard for assessing discriminatory application of a workplace policy which draws its essence from treating the Girl Scouts differently than the Teamsters. Although it will take years of charges and further NLRB decisions to flesh this out, the main change in direction by the Board is to evaluate both the source and the type of solicitation. The new Board standard distinguishes between personal nonwork-related messages and messages from a “group” or “organization” such as a union or the Girl Scouts. Therefore, the NLRB’s definition of “discrimination under the Act” means drawing distinctions along Section 7 lines between solicitations by or on behalf of outside organizations. For example, the Board didn’t take issue with employee e-mails with non-work related subjects like jokes, party invitations, request for services such as dog walking, etc. The Board noted that the employer never allowed e-mail use for solicitation by or on behalf of outside organizations other than the United Way. Clearly, e-mail solicitations for support by or on behalf of an outside organization can not discriminate against union messages without violating the NLRA. The huge gray area was created by the Board in cases where an e-mail involves a solicitation or merely an informational summary surrounding an outside event. This is the difference between the first two e-mails mentioned in the decision which were solicitations and the third which was a “simple clarification of facts surrounding a recent union event.” I hope the Board’s new standard doesn’t hinge on the skillfulness of the drafter of the e-mail. I.e., the difference between “vote for the union” and “let me tell you want happened at the union hall last night.”


I am in favor of any policy that keeps me from having to buy anything my boss's kids are selling.

Ed Darrell

More importantly, the non-solicitation policy is grounded in a desire to remain union-free.

Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Campfire build character. In organizations I've worked in, generally anyone with Scouting experience was head and shoulders above others, especially with regard to doing things morally and ethically, to arrive at good solutions and keep the company well out of trouble.

So, we reward them by shutting out their fundraising, so that we can snarkily keep unions out?

If we have to sacrifice our children to keep unions out of the workplace, perhaps our goal isn't worthwhile in the first place.

When we start putting our kids up as flak catchers and bullet catchers, our moral integrity is already gone.

Unions don't have that problem -- they support the Scouts whole heartedly. Maybe we should take a clue from that, about which side has the moral high ground, and which side is concerned about our future.


Ed -

First up, thanks for commenting. It's good to have folks who don't think exactly like the target audience for this blog - HR pros.

Now on to the topic. I can't think of a single one of my peers who doesn't hate making these calls regarding solicitation. We didn't write the laws or the NLRB code, so we are left to deal with it as best we can.

As my post refers to, a good HR Pro won't simply be all or nothing regarding social drives like the Girl Scouts. Most HR Pros will let verbal "word of mouth" rule the day when it comes to these types of drives. The key in being a good HR Pro in situations like this is knowing when to say "when".

That point usually comes when someone is putting up posters or sending blast emails to all employees asking for support.

When that type of broad solicitation happens, that's usually when we have a call to make. In my experience, the person doing the blast email has ran outside thier circle of friends and is now blasting people who have no affiliation with them.

Which means I would probably stop it at this point, for two reasons. First is the non-solicitation policy and all it entails, but the second reason is just as important - employees don't want to be bombarded with sales pitches in the workplace.

That's the primary reason I would stop it. Many people don't want to be pressured to buy from someone they barely no. If they say no, they have to see that person every day. They would rather buy from someone they know...

So I would enforce non-solicitation not only from a union-avoidance standpoint, but more importantly from a employee relations standpoint. Want to sell them? Cool! Do a face to face pitch rather than the equivalent of direct mail in the workplace.

Thanks - KD


However, a Credit Union asking the company if they can come in a do a presentation? As long as it's on the employee's lunch time and totally voluntary, who cares? There ARE benefits to Credit Unions; what's to be gained by not taking the opportunity to financially educate our employees? And if they want to give a sales pitch, so what? No thank you is a perfectly fine answer.

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