US labor regulator says Apple violated employee rights with restrictive work rules

Its confidentiality practices 'interfere with, restrain or coerce employees,' the NLRB said.

Joshua Roberts / reuters

The National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) has determined that Apple's rules around leaks violate workers' rights, Bloomberg has reported. Apple's actions and statements from executives "tend to interfere with, restrain or coerce employees" from exercising their rights, a spokesperson said in a statement.

The decision stems from complaints by former employees Cher Scarlett and Ashley Gjøvik. Scarlett alleged that Apple work rules "prohibit employees from discussing wages, hours or other terms or conditions of employment," in violation of labor laws. Gjøvik, meanwhile, complained that an email sent by CEO Tim Cook vowing to punish leakers violated federal laws. Apple's policies prohibiting staff from disclosing business information, talking to reporters and other actions were also illegal, Gjøvik alleged.

In the email in question, Cook wrote that "we do not tolerate disclosures of confidential information, whether it's product IP or the details of a confidential meeting... people who leak confidential information do not belong here." That was in response to the leak of a company-wide meeting that was effectively tweeted live by a journalist, as TechCrunch noted.

The NLRB will issue a complaint against Apple unless the company settles, the spokesperson said. Apple has yet to comment, but a company attorney previously said, "Apple fosters an open and inclusive work environment whereby employees are not just permitted, but encouraged, to share their feelings and thoughts on a range of issues, from social justice topics to pay equity to anything else that they feel is an important cause to promote in the workplace."

Gjøvik was fired by Apple in 2021 for leaking confidential information and told TechCrunch she believes she was let go in retaliation after filing an EPA report about toxic fumes in her office. She complained to the NLRB that she was let go illegally, but the board has yet to issue a ruling on that subject.

The NLRB recently found that Apple violated federal law with anti-union meetings in Atlanta. Earlier this month, Apple agreed to review its labor practices, saying in an SEC filing that it would assess its "efforts to comply with its Human Rights Policy as it relates to workers’ freedom of association and collective bargaining rights in the United States by the end of calendar year 2023."