According to the sworn testimony of former FBI Director James Comey, President Trump pulled him into a private meeting in the oval office and said, about the FBI’s ongoing investigation of former national security advisor Michael Flynn, “I hope you can let this go.” One question raised by the testimony is whether it was reasonable for Comey to interpret President Trump’s statement as a directive. While labor law does not have a direct answer, the National Labor Relations Board has held that when a company president expresses his “hope” to a worker, it can be coercive.
In a 1995 case, KNTV, Inc., the company president had a private meeting with a reporter where the president told the reporter, “I hope you won’t continue to be an agitator or antagonize the people in the newsroom.” The NLRB found that the statement was coercive in large part because it was made by the company’s highest ranking official and it was made in a meeting that the reporter was required to attend alone. Sound familiar?
In other words, the expert agency that regularly adjudicates disputes about whether particular statements by an employer rise to the level of coercion has held that when the president of an organization expresses his “hopes” in a private conversation with a worker, those comments will likely have a “chilling effect” on the employee.