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Judge Rules Chipotle's Social Media Policy Is Illegal

Restaurants can't fire employees for posting negative comments on social media

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A judge's verdict in Pennsylvania may mean more employees will be tweeting out gripes about their employers. According to ABC News, an administrative judge just ruled that Chipotle is at fault for firing an employee after he tweeted a negative comment about working there. James Kennedy, a 38-year-old war veteran, took to Twitter early last year after a customer tweeted a thanks to Chipotle for offering free food on January 25.

Kennedy responded to the tweet, "@ChipotleTweets, nothing is free, only cheap #labor. Crew members make only $8.50hr how much is that steak bowl really?" After a supervisor showed Kennedy the company's social media policy — which states that an employee cannot make "disparaging, false" statements about Chipotle publicly — the tweet was removed by the disgruntled employee.

However, the issue didn't end there. Two weeks after the incident, Kennedy was let go from Chipotle after passing around a petition that asked for employees to be allowed to take breaks during their shift. At the court hearing, Kennedy's manager admitted to firing him because she was scared that he would become violent after their verbal altercation involving the petition.

Kennedy, represented by the Pennsylvania Workers Organizing Committee, won the case. A judge ruled in his favor and stated that Chipotle's social media policy violated labor laws and ordered the restaurant chain to post signs explaining that these policies, as well as some others, were illegal. Chipotle was also ordered to rehire Kennedy — who now holds a union job with American Airlines — and pay him lost wages. After his big win, Kennedy says he will take his lost wages in Chipotle food vouchers, as he's still a big fan of the chain's food.

He encourages employees to not hesitate when posting comments about their jobs on social media, "If you want to tweet something about your personal experience at your job, do it." He goes on to explain the power of social media, "A lot of times your bosses will sugarcoat what's going on. Doing it publicly really puts the spotlight on them."

Chipotle has not released a statement on the matter.

Social media can be a double-edged sword when it comes to the restaurant industry. Restaurants like Olive Garden have used it to allow customers to vote for the next new menu item, while an Irish Pub used Snapchat to hire its staff. Social media once even helped catch a pair of serial dine-and-dash brothers in Cleveland. However, the relationship between social media and restaurants hasn't been all rainbows and food porn hashtags. One Facebook post of a cockroach resulted in the closing of an Alaska restaurant. It can also be used as revenge, as in the case of a fired chef who hijacked his restaurant's Twitter account or a bar manager who used it to put a misinformed customer in her place.

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