New York State Bans Mandatory “Captive Audience” Meetings

By Jill Kahn Marshall and Anna Beckelman

On the heels of what has been deemed by some “hot labor summer,” due to high profile strikes and union activity, the New York State Legislature has enacted a law to protect workers’ organizing efforts.  Signed by Governor Kathy Hochul on September 6, 2023, the new law bans mandatory “captive audience” meetings, so-called because employers could previously mandate that their employees attend meetings where anti-union views were espoused.

The legislation protects non-supervisory employees from experiencing adverse consequences for declining to attend employer-sponsored meetings which have the “primary purpose” of communicating the employer’s views on religious or political matters.  Notably, the law specifically defines “political matters” to include the employer’s views on the decision to join or support a labor union.

The law’s emphasis is on the mandatory nature of such meetings, such that it does not ban casual conversation on these topics.  The measure also explicitly allows employers to communicate information that is legally required, or that is necessary for employees to perform their job duties.  There is also an exemption for religious speech directed at employees of religious entities exempt from the requirements of Title VII.  Employers are required to post a notice in the workplace that informs employees of their rights under the new law.

Several other states have enacted captive audience bans in recent years, though one such law in Connecticut is facing a legal challenge from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  The federal lawsuit argues the ban violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by discriminating against employers’ viewpoints on political matters, regulating the content of employers’ communications with their employees, and by chilling and prohibiting employer speech.  The suit also charges that the Connecticut law is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which provides that employers may express their views to employees as long as the employees are not coerced to fall in line. Despite the Chamber of Commerce’s position, the General Counsel of the NLRB has separately expressed her view that captive audience meetings do in fact violate the NLRA.

New York’s law will almost certainly face similar challenges to Connecticut’s, so employers and employees should continue to monitor these developments.

This article is intended as a general discussion of these issues only and is not to be considered legal advice or relied upon. For more information, please contact RPJ Partner Jill Kahn Marshall, who counsels individuals and corporations in the areas of employment law, litigation and dispute resolution, and healthcare. Ms. Marshall is admitted to practice law in New York and Massachusetts, as well as the District Courts for Massachusetts and the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York.