Tell your boss to go to hell! Profanity, insubordination now protected by labor laws

9-5 boss
“9 to 5” movie

If your employee tells you to “take this job and shove it,” just smile and nod.

Attorneys with one international law firm said that managers who discipline even grossly insubordinate employees could be inviting a lawsuit.

A number of recent rulings by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have declared that behavior most people would consider inappropriate in the workplace – or most anywhere else, for that matter – is nonetheless “protected activity.”

NLRB officials earlier this year found in favor of employees of Starbucks and Hooters who had used four-letter words with their bosses, according to the Washington Free Beacon. It even found that language in the Hooters employee handbook prohibiting insubordination was unlawful.

Hooters management was ordered to put up a sign saying, “WE WILL NOT maintain or enforce a provision in our Employee Handbook that prohibits employees from being disrespectful to the Company, other employees, customers, partners, and competitors, posting no offensive language or pictures and no negative comments about the Company or coworkers of the Company.”

The Board’s decisions essentially expand the sorts of employee dissent that are considered protected.

Attorneys Frederick D. Braid and Loren Lee Forrest Jr. of the law firm Holland & Knight wrote in a post on the JD Supra blog that the rulings mean bosses need to be careful about how they respond to employee complaints, even when they are expressed in a way that most would consider “incredibly objectionable.”

“Clearly, employees are free to discuss, and even complain about, their terms and conditions of employment; this is a core right protected by federal law, whether or not the employees are represented by a union,” the attorneys wrote. “However, the Board is now frequently condoning incredibly objectionable behavior that is combined with an alleged exercise of protected activity.”

The attorneys wrote that they see no “easy antidote” for the NLRB’s apparent unwillingness to define appropriate and inappropriate workplace speech and behavior for employees.

Companies, and the managers who work for them, will therefore have to exercise caution when dealing with employees who complain about any aspect of their work environment, the Free Beacon says, even when those complaints rise to a level that would violate the most basic “social norms and common sense.”

Failure to do so may open the door for litigation, the lawyers said.

CLASSIC boss-bashing scene from Clark Griswold, Christmas Vacation 1989. . . “Hallelujah, holy sh**,  where’s the Tylenol?”


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