Why You Can't Fire Employees for Bad-Mouthing Your Business
The firing of six minimum wage workers is costing a sandwich shop local franchisee hundreds of thousands of dollars.
A National Labor Relations Board judge has ruled that six workers who protested the company sick policy–and who were fired more than a year ago–should get their jobs back within 14 days. The judge has also said that the workers should receive back pay, which totals about $10,000 apiece.
A franchise of the Jimmy John's sandwich shop fired the workers after they papered part of the local Minneapolis-St. Paul area with posters claiming the restaurant's customers were at risk of illness because of a policy that required workers to find their own replacements before taking a sick day. The workers also had been active in efforts to unionize 10 local Jimmy John's franchises.
The posters featured pictures of two sandwiches. The text read: "Can't tell the difference? That's too bad because Jimmy John's workers don't get paid sick days... We hope your immune system is ready, because you are about to take the sandwich test."
Judge Arthur Amchan ruled that the local franchisee–a company called MikLin Enterprises Inc. that owns 10 shops–had violated the union organizing rights of the employees by firing them.
Erik Forman, one of the workers who lost his job, told the Minnesota Daily: “It’s a big victory. It’s not unexpected for us—we’ve known for a long time that our posters and our right to speak out about health and safety issues are legally protected."
He added: "But we’re glad to see that we’re one step closer to getting back to work and exercise our right to organize.”
MikLin Enterprises, owned by Mike Mulligan and his son Rob Mulligan, said in an e-mailed statement that they "respectfully disagree with the [judge's] findings... and we will decide our next steps shortly."
In a March 2011 letter to Rob Mulligan, workers called the policy a risk to public safety because it created an incentive for them to work while ill.
MikLin Enterprises said in a statement that its policy is fair and typical of the fast food industry and said it was "patently false" that workers were required to work when sick. Forman said that at minimum wage or just above it, none of the workers could afford to take a day off.
MikLin also noted that the workers had been fired for a "malicious" effort to ruin Jimmy John's–though Amchan ruled the posters were protected speech under the National Labor Relations Act.
If MikLin appeals, the case could take another year or two to settle. The workers would not have to be rehired until then.
"It's pretty frustrating," Forman told the Star-Tribune.
What is your experience with sick policies in the fast food industry? What do you think of the ruling?
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