Continuing a trend that started several years ago, an NLRB Administrative Law Judge found that an employer violated the National Labor Relations Act by disciplining an employee for social media posts. This time the guilty party was a Chipotle restaurant. In Chipotle Services LLC, a disgruntled employee took to Twitter to vent his frustrations over working conditions. Two of his tweets concerned “snow days” and crew members’ hourly wages. Chipotle asked the employee to take down the tweets, which the employee did, and emailed him an outdated version of its social media policy. Apparently not happy with his treatment and his perception that employees were not permitted to take designated work breaks, and after seeking advice from a labor organizer at McDonald’s, the employee drafted a petition to be signed by Chipotle employees. Some employees signed the petition.
It should not be too hard to see where this is going. Chipotle discussed the petition and the issues with the employee, things became heated, and the employee was told to go home. While Chipotle maintained that he was only to go home for the day, management later decided to terminate him based on his conduct and demeanor during the meeting, not because of the petition.
The ALJ found multiple violations of the NLRA:
- First, the ALJ found that although Chipotle admitted that its social media policy was outdated, it had nevertheless maintained the improper policy because it had utilized it in this employee’s case, as well as with eight other employees.
- Second, Chipotle violated the NLRA by directing him to delete the tweets concerning wages and working conditions.
- Third, Chipotle violated the NLRA when it directed him to stop circulating the petition and, again violated the Act, when it fired him. (The ALJ, in particularly harsh language, did not believe that he was fired for his demeanor, but rather for refusing to stop circulating the petition.)
- Finally, the ALJ went through Chipotle’s handbook and, not surprisingly, found numerous violations.
As stated many times, the NLRB is going to closely examine employers’ actions, policies and statements for any violation of the NLRA. Employers should closely scrutinize any questionable conduct and, if it is subject to multiple interpretations, expect an unfair labor practice charge.