Employer Ordered To Rehire Workers Who Badmouthed Boss On Facebook

Holli Thomas had a simple request. She wanted to know if the Bettie Page store where she worked in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood could close an hour earlier than its normal 8 p.m. closing time. Thomas and other workers at the vintage clothing store -- named after the iconic 1950s pinup model -- were concerned about their safety, since other nearby retailers closed an hour earlier and the store had no security system.

But Thomas' request, along with other suggestions she had for making the store "the best it could possibly be," were ignored. So she and a co-worker vented on Facebook, and that resulted in their dismissal, according to a National Labor Relations Board decision last week (via Social Media Employment Law Blog).

Management, however, had argued that wasn't the case. During a three-day hearing in February, Bettie Page officials testified that the workers were fired for insubordination and failure to perform their duties. But the judge in the case saw it differently, ruling that management wrongly fired the boutique's employees in retaliation for derisive Facebook posts about their manager and the company.

In addition to giving the store's fired workers their jobs back, the judge ordered Bettie Page to reimburse them for lost wages and benefits, and to revise its handbook to eliminate policies that -- in violation of the law -- prohibit workers from disclosing wages.

Griping On Facebook

"[B]ettie page would roll over in her grave," Thomas said in a Facebook post criticizing the boutique's operation, after she and another employee decided to close it an hour early when store manager Hayley Griffin was out of town.

"800 miles away yet she she's [sic] continues [to make] our lives miserable," Thomas further wrote, following an angry phone call that she received from Griffin, who was upset to learn that the store had closed early.

Griffin learned of the Facebook postings after a sales clerk -- and friend -- told her about them. After consulting with upper management, Griffin fired Thomas and the other employee, Vanessa Morris. In response to the dismissals, Morris filed a complaint with federal labor officials, leading to the recent hearing before a National Labor Relations Board judge.

It's precisely the kinds of conversations that Thomas and Morris exhibited on Facebook that are protected under federal labor law, according to Administrative Law Judge William G. Kogol, who ordered the fired employees' reinstatement.

In his decision, Kogol wrote that the Bettie Page company violated the worker's "protected concerted activity" rights under the National Labor Relations Act. Discussions among employees about working conditions and related matters are generally not actions for which employees can be fired.

More entertaining than Kogol's ruling in favor of the employees, however, is some of the description that he provides in his 19-page decision about company management. He notes, for example, that testimony given by Bettie Page officials "was entirely unconvincing."

"It seemed they were prone to exaggerate, stretch the truth, and simply fabricate testimony to suit the situation," the judge wrote, while noting that the store's employees provided credible evidence for their case.

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