When a Chipotle employee in Havertown, Pennsylvania found himself dissatisfied with his job last year, he did what many people do: aired his grievances on Twitter. But after tweeting about wages and circulating a petition asking managers to give workers their legally mandated breaks, James Kennedy was fired for violating the burrito chain’s social media policy. Now, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found that the policy in question (which bans employees from "spreading inaccurate information") violates federal labor laws.
According to the New York Post, Kennedy’s first tweet came in response to a customer who tweeted her thanks for a free food offer in January 2015. In response, he wrote: "@ChipotleTweets, nothing is free, only cheap #labor. Crew members make only $8.50hr how much is that steak bowl really?"
He eventually took the tweet down after being warned by management, but shortly after began circulating a petition that alleged workers weren’t able to take breaks. Kennedy was then fired.
In a decision delivered August 18, the National Labor Relations Board said the chain went too far — not just in firing Kennedy, but for having such stringent social media policies in place at all. As a result, the NLRB has ordered Chipotle to cease and desist from, well, just about everything when it comes to how employees interact on social media.
The decision itself is lengthy, but it orders Chipotle to stop "prohibiting employees from circulating petitions regarding the company’s adherence to its break policy or any other terms and conditions of employment." Petitions regarding pay, breaks, and overtime have cropped up a lot recently. In some cases, they’ve proven successful, at least in terms of getting the attention of company CEOs; one Starbucks employee received a personal phone call from CEO Howard Schultz after he penned his own petition on coworker.org.
According to the NLRB, not only must Chipotle stop enforcing its petition rule, but it can no longer fire employees, like Kennedy, for circulating such a petition.
The NLRB decision also cites a number of other company rules that Chipotle must cease, such as a "Political/Religious Activity and Contributions" rule, which prohibits employees from "discussing politics and from using [Chipotle’s] name for political purposes."
As Bloomberg notes, the judge also ordered the chain to post signs acknowledging that some of its employee policies (specifically the social media rules) were illegal.
The NLRB further ordered the burrito behemoth to offer Kennedy his job back within 14 days and provide him with any lost earnings he suffered "as a result of the discrimination against him."
The NLRB decision is the latest bout of legal trouble for the embattled fast-casual chain. Earlier this month, a Washington D.C. jury found that a Chipotle worker had been discriminated against for being pregnant. A separate suit — which accuses the company of deceiving customers with its claims of a GMO-free menu — is moving forward in federal court.
• National Labor Relations Board Order [NLRB]
• All Chipotle Coverage [E]