Prohibiting Employees from Wearing “Pins” Violates the NLRA

On January 13, 2013, the National Labor Relations Board (« NLRB ») of the New York Branch office rendered its decision in the Boch Imports, Inc. case dealing with unfair labor practices brought by a union.

Respondent in this case, maintained and Employee Handbook containing certain rules and policies that the employees alleged violated Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (« NLRA »). The union targeted the sections regulating “Confidential and Proprietary Information,” “Discourtesy,” “Inquiries Concerning Employees,” “Dress Code,” “Solicitation/Distribution,” and “Social Media.” For instance, the “Dress Code and Personal Hygiene” stated that: “employees who have contact with the public may not wear pins, insignias, or other message clothing which are not provided to them by the Company” and the “Courtesy” section stated: “all employees are expected to be courteous, polite and friendly, both to customers and to their fellow employees. The use of profanity or disrespect to a customer or co-worker, or engaging in any activity which could harm the image or reputation of the Company, is strictly prohibited.”

After a first consultation with the NLRB’s New York branch office, the Respondent changed most of the litigious provisions, with the exception of the “Dress Code Provision”, to the satisfaction of the region. Following this initial consultation, the Respondent issued a revised Employee Handbook in May 2013, containing the corrected provisions, and distributed the revised Handbook to all employees who received the prior handbook. Therefore the only provision that remained in dispute between the parties was the “Dress Code and Personal Hygiene Policy.”

The Respondent argued that the prohibition on wearing pins is valid because “the special circumstances herein are that pins are a safety hazard that could injure its employees and damage its vehicles, and, additionally, that as Number 1 on the Planet, it is protecting its image.” However, the NLRB disagreed with the last part of the Respondent’s defense because they did not establish any special circumstances warranting the prohibition of wearing “insignias or other message clothing.”

Finally, the NLRB concluded that: “while employees have the right to wear union insignia at work, employers have the right to take reasonable steps to ensure full and safe production of their product or to maintain discipline. Therefore the Board holds that a rule which curtails that employee right is presumptively invalid unless special circumstances exist which make the rule necessary to maintain production or discipline, or to ensure safety. Such special circumstances would include situations where the wearing of insignias or ‘other message clothing’ might jeopardize employee safety, damage machinery or products, exacerbate employee dissension, or unreasonably interfere with a public image that the employer has established, or when necessary to maintain decorum and discipline among employees.” Therefore, the Respondent violated Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA by implementing and maintaining their policy regarding Employee’s dress code and prohibiting their employees from wearing pins.

If you believe you have been discriminated against or if you believe your right as an employee have been violated by your employer, please contact the Harman Firm P.C.