Employees wearing protest attire and using work email to stir the pot
Q: We have employees showing up to work with buttons that promote a minimum wage increase and using their company email accounts to organize protests of our company policies. Can we stop them from doing this?
A: Generally, no. Unfortunately for employers, the National Labor Relations Board, the agency tasked with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), has consistently decided that these activities are protected. The NLRA protects nonmanagement employees’ ability to unionize or band together to advance their common interests regarding wages, hours, and working conditions; exceptions are very limited. To prohibit the buttons, you would need to show they unreasonably interfere with your organization’s public image, and this will be a very high bar to hurdle. When it comes to email, you would need show special circumstances make it necessary to restrict this activity to maintain production or discipline. Instead of focusing on the button itself or use of email, deal with the underlying issues and try to address the employees’ concerns. Sit down with the employees to ask what’s really going on, what they’re upset about, and how this can be worked out. If you’re unable to reach a satisfactory resolution or if you feel your policies fall into the narrow exceptions the NLRB has identified, contact an employment attorney before taking disciplinary action.