NLRB accuses Activision Blizzard of violating labor law by threatening employees

It says the company enforced an 'overbroad social media policy' as workers started to organize.

Mike Blake / reuters

A regional director for the National Labor Relations Board has determined there's "merit to the allegations" that Activision Blizzard violated the National Labor Relations Act. It says there are indications the company and its subsidiaries Blizzard Entertainment and Activision Publishing maintained an "overbroad social media policy" and that Blizzard threatened employees who were exercising their right to organize. The findings were first reported by Bloomberg and confirmed to Engadget.

“These allegations are false. Employees may and do talk freely about these workplace issues without retaliation, and our social media policy expressly incorporates employees’ NLRA rights," an Activision Blizzard spokesperson told Engadget in a statement. "Our social media policy explicitly says that it ‘does not restrict employees from engaging in the communication of information protected by law, including for example, rights of employees in the United States protected by the National Labor Relations Act.’”

If the company does not settle the case, the NLRB's Los Angeles office will file a complaint. That will lead to a hearing in front of an NLRB Administrative Law Judge (unless a settlement is reached in the meantime).

While the agency can't impose punitive measures against a defendant, it can require them to reverse punishments or policies; reinstate fired workers and provide backpay; or post notices containing promises not to break the law. An NLRB regional director can petition a district court for a temporary injunction if workers' rights have been violated. The agency can also file cases in federal court.

The allegations were made in September by the Communications Workers of America (CWA). It accused Activision Blizzard in an Unfair Labor Practice filing of telling employees they can't discuss wages, hours or working conditions; enforcing an "an overly broad social media policy" against workers who "engaged in protected concerted activity" (i.e. their right to organize or discuss unionization); and threatening or suveilling such employees.

The news comes on the same day that votes will be counted in a Raven Software union election. Quality assurance workers at the Activision Blizzard studio, who are organizing with the CWA as the Game Workers Alliance, got the go-ahead from the NLRB to hold a vote. If they're successful, the group of 21 or so workers will form the first union at a AAA game publisher in North America, despite the company's reported attempts to stymie their efforts.

Activision Blizzard's labor practices came under intense scrutiny last July when California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing accused it in a lawsuit of fostering a "frat boy" culture where sexual harassment and discrimination were present. Other suits have been filed against the company since, including a wrongful death case.

In the wake of the initial suit, Activision Blizzard workers formed an employee advocacy group called A Better ABK. They used social media to organize and share their concerns and demands publicly.

The company is the subject of a proposed $68.7 billion takeover by Microsoft. Its shareholders voted in favor of the deal last month, but regulatory approval is still required.

Update 5/23 3:10PM ET: Added Activision Blizzard's statement.