Illegally Fired for Using the F-Word? NLRB Says Profanity Not Enough to Strip Someone of Federal Protection!
Last month, a National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) Judge found that a chief union steward at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in St. Charles, Missouri was illegally fired after using the F-word during a speech encouraging employees to overload the company with overtime hours.
Heartland Coca-Cola Bottling Company, LLC produces and stores Coca-Cola products in facilities across Illinois, Kansas and Missouri. Last February, Heartland acquired a distribution facility in St. Charles, Missouri. Shortly after taking control of the center, Heartland held a meeting where it encouraged its workers to volunteer to work overtime on their day off to catch up with orders, reduce overtime costs, and ease the transition to new management.
At that meeting, Carl Jones, chief union steward encouraged workers at the facility to volunteer to work, but expressed he didn’t care if the workers overloaded the company with overtime hours. In his speech to employees, Jones stated:
“Guys, if you come in, do your business, do what you need to do, and if they lie to you and you’re still doing 16 hours, f*ck ’em. Don’t come in on your off day. Don’t do any more favors.”
Jones was suspended and subsequently fired for his statements. The NLRB General Counsel filed a complaint on Jones’ behalf alleging Heartland violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) for prohibiting Jones from engaging in protected union activity. Heartland claimed the statements were extremely offensive and risked harm to the Company’s reputation in violation of Company policy. The Company also claimed Jones made those statements in an attempt to incite employees against upper management.
The NLRB Judge disagreed with Heartland’s contentions, noting that profanity was common in the St. Charles center, and Jones spoke to the group the way he normally spoke to them to motivate them. The Judge held Jones’ use of profanity was not so excessive, offensive, or violent to cause him to lose NLRA protection. Heartland was ordered to rehire Jones and rescind its policy against statements that harm company reputation because it was found to be overbroad and tended to unlawfully limit employee rights under the NLRA.
While there is a new Administration in Washington (and the NLRB may be more conservative), this case reminds us the NLRA is not black and white; there are protections afforded within it that are not evident at first blush. Employers need to ensure workplace policies comply with the NLRA and should incorporate NLRA compliance into their management training and self-auditing programs.
Brody and Associates regularly advises its clients on all labor management issues and provides various related training programs. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.454.0560. Brody and Associates regularly advises its clients on all labor management issues and provides various related training programs. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at email@example.com or 203.454.0560.