You know employees have the right to discuss their working conditions, even in ways that are less than flattering to the employer, right?  And you also know this right applies whether or not you have a union, yes?  So far, so good.  How broadly is this rule, that employees have a right to engage in concerted, protected activity under the NLRA, applied?  A case decided earlier this week gives us a sense.

An employee wore a shirt saying “slave” on it to work, accompanied by a picture of a ball and chain.  He meant it to express his criticism of his employer.  The employer sent him home to change and docked his pay, relying on its dress code that forbade displaying “words or images derogatory to the Company.”  According to the administrative law judge who heard the case, the employee was undoubtedly engaged in protected activity.  Thus, he ordered the employer to pay lost wages and interest, and also to ditch its policy.

This case was decided in the union context.  But please don’t be fooled into thinking the NLRB would hesitate to pursue a similar case in a non-union environment.  The Board is still, and more than ever, looking for ways to make itself relevant to the modern workplace.

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[photo credit: Lawyers.com]