The workplace has not escaped increased political expression over racism. Earlier this month, the National Labor Relations Board’s Minneapolis regional office filed a complaint against Home Depot for firing an employee displaying a Black Lives Matter slogan. This is among the most recent employment law cases regarding workplace expression.
The NLRB claimed that Home Depot suspended and ultimately terminated the employee for having a Black Lives Matter slogan on his apron and discussing racial harassment with other workers and employees. The NLRB charged that the suspension and termination violated protections under the National Labor Relations Act. It also claimed that Home Depot illegally enforced its lawful dress code and apron policies and threatened employees from engaging in activity relating to racial harassment.
Home Depot disputed these charges and said it would provide facts to the NLRB. It stated that it does not tolerate workplace harassment and seriously considers cases of harassment and or discrimination.
The NLRB filed a similar claim against the In-N-Out Burger restaurant chain. It found that the chain violated the NRLA by asking employees to remove buttons supporting the nationwide $15 minimum wage campaign from their uniforms. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the NLRB’s ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court did not accept the case for review.
Last year, Whole Foods’ employees filed a class action lawsuit against the grocery chain claiming that it violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The workers charged it disciplined employees who wore masks to express solidarity with the Black Lives Mater movement because the employees violated the company’s policy on employees wearing clothing containing visible slogans, messages, advertising, or logos unrelated to the company.
A federal judge granted a motion to dismiss these claims except for one count of retaliation against one of the workers named in the suit. Plaintiffs have appealed this ruling.
Employers can enforce policies prohibiting political speech at work if these policies are evenly enforced and there is no discrimination against protected groups of employees. Attorneys can help protect workers when their employers violate their rights or engage in unlawful employment practices.