U.S. labor board prosecutors have determined that Activision Blizzard illegally threatened staff members and violated employees' workers' rights by enforcing an "overly broad" social media policy.
The National Labor Relations Board provided a statement of its assessment to Game Developer. The NLRB's Los Angeles-area office is planning to file a formal complaint against Activision Blizzard unless the publisher reaches a settlement with the agency.
These allegations specifically support the claim that Activision Blizzard has threatened employees in the exercise of rights guaranteed by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. "The employer has threatened employees that they cannot talk about or communicate about wages, hours and working conditions," the complaint reads.
Activision Blizzard apparently also "told employees they cannot communicate with or discuss ongoing investigations of wages, hours and working conditions; maintained an overly broad social media policy; enforced the social media policy against employees who have engaged in protected concerted activity; threatened or disciplined employees on account of protected concerted activity; engaged in surveillance of employees engaged in protected concerted activity and engaged in interrogation of employees about protected concerted activity."
The NLRB looked into this complaint and "found merit" to the allegations.
We should note here that U.S. labor law works differently than U.S. criminal law, and Activision Blizzard has not been found guilty of criminal behavior. Should the company not settle this complaint with the agency, it will go before a hearing in front of an NLRB Administrative Law Judge.
A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard denied the NLRB's findings in a statement to Game Developer. "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," they stated.
An NLRB spokesperson declined to comment on Activision Blizzard's denial.
USC Gould School of Law Lecturer Thomas Lenz (who used to work as an NLRB attorney) explained to Game Developer that Activision Blizzard still has a long line of appeals options after the NLRB ruling. After an NLRB Administrative Law Judge issues its ruling, the company will be appeal that ruling to the NLRB Board in Washington D.C, and then to the federal court of appeals.
"If an employer takes the case into the courts, it is likely that attorneys from NLRB headquarters will also petition the court to enforce the ruling against the employer," Lenz explained.
It is worth noting that the NLRB has no authority to fine or penalize an accused employer, but Lenz noted that accusers filing through the NLRB are pursuing "more aggressive demands" in pursuing remedies to restore the status quo at the workplace prior to when unlawful conduct occurred.
"The NLRB’s current General Counsel is taking sweeping and aggressive view of appropriate remedies to ensure that employee’s Section 7 rights are protected against infringement," Lenz observed. "However, when there is not tangible economic loss or a loss of employment opportunities, there often remains room for debate on what is appropriate."
That means it will be some time before we know what form of remedy complaining Activision Blizzard employees will be rewarded (if they are rewarded at all).
This news comes on the same day that unionizing employees at Raven Software are set to count the votes on their unionization election being run by the NLRB. Should they receive enough votes, they will have successfully formed the first union at Activision Blizzard.
We've reached out to the NLRB and Activision Blizzard worker advocacy organization A Better ABK for comment on Activision Blizzard's denial of the NLRB charges. We will update this story when they reply.
Activision Blizzard has faced a barrage of complaints from workers following the filing of a lawsuit last year by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging that the company fostered a culture of toxicity, sexual harassment, and abuse at multiple parts of the company.
Further revelations throughout the year would implicate Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick in allegedly abusive behavior. He has yet to resign despite repeated calls from employees.