What If Wednesday: Handbilling

The ancient art of handbilling is the topic of today’s What If Wednesday.

Handbilling – or the practice of handing out fliers to unsuspecting employees an passersby – really is ancient.  In fact, prior to the Revolutionary War, our patriot forefathers handbilled against the English in an effort to entice the masses against English tyranny.  Fast forward a couple hundred years, and unions still use this arcane way of soliciting support from company workers and the public by standing outside of a workplace and handing out disparaging comments to employees about their employer and supervisors.  Handbilling is not picketing.  I’ll discuss a company’s rights against picketing next week.  But for today, what if handbilling is occurring outside your company?

A company’s rights against handbilling depends largely on who owns the property.  Shopping centers are frequently the easiest targets of handbilling and there is constant litigation over the tenants’ rights versus the union’s rights.  Oddly, laws in this area are all over the place and vary from state to state.

For companies that either own or rent stand alone buildings, those companies typically have private property rights and can expel the handbillers under threat of trespass.  Like last week’s discussion about calling the police if a union business agent refused to leave your office, feel free to call the police here, too, if the handbillers refuse to leave your property.  But calling the police should not be the first thing you do.

Some states require certain notices to the handbillers that they are in fact trespassing.  You just can’t sue them for trespassing if they haven’t been warned.  Calling the police, could solve this “notice” requirement, but I recommend calling your labor attorney since he or she will know whether the handbillers need notice or if an injunction limiting their presence should be the first step to counter the union’s attack.

Handbillers can lawfully be required to back away from your building and off of your parking lot, but are typically granted a 10-15 foot area at the edge of your property so they’re not standing in the street.  If you’re in an office park, or somewhere that doesn’t have much vehicular traffic, you can move them a little further than if you’re located on a heavy highway.  However, at all times the union must be able to “effectively communicate their message,” which means, you can’t tuck them into a corner where none of your employees travel and no one can see them.  Afterall, handbilling is a form of free speech.

I know it doesn’t seem like you have many options to defend against handbilling, and unfortunately, you don’t.  Your one saving grace is that employees hate being harassed by people when they’re leaving work and usually avoid the handbillers, anyway.  The few union supporters inside your company will be causing a scene in support of the handbillers and making sure that everyone gets a flier.  But other than them, you’ll be surprised at the lack of interest employees give to handbiller.  The more effective way for unions to reach your employees is through salting where a paid union operative secures a job on your workforce and organizes your employees from the inside.  We’ll discuss salting at in a later What if Wednesday post.

Here’s the disclaimer that I’m required to include:  Nothing in this blog post creates an attorney-client relationship nor should it be considered legal advice.

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