In a pair of recent cases, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled against businesses who fired workers who used profanity in the workplace.
In one case, the NLRB ruled that a business shouldn't have fired an employee even though he berated the owner to his face. In the other, the board ruled that Starbucks was wrong to fire an employee even though he used profanity and got into an altercation with a manager in front of customers.
Big Business has expressed alarm at the NLRB's stance. In a posting on its website Friday, the Chamber of Commerce wrote that the board was "flat-out undermining the ability of employers to exercise even the most basic principles of running a business."
In the first case, "Plaza Auto Center, Inc. and Nick Aguirre," the NLRB ruled on May 28th that a Yuma, Ariz., car dealership owner was wrong in 2008 to fire a worker who had called him an "asshole" and "f---ing crook" and similar insults during an office meeting to discuss a wage dispute. The NLRB said that owner had instigated the incident by telling the employee that if he didn't like the pay, he could work elsewhere. That was an "implied threat" of firing, according to the board.
"The facts in the case persuade us that [the employee's] outburst would not have occurred but for [the owner's] provocation, which included threats of discharge," the majority ruled.
On Monday, the NLRB ruled on "Starbucks Corp. and Local 660, Industrial Workers of the World," again finding that a worker's profanity was not reason enough for dismissal. That case involved a Manhattan barista who was a vocal union supporter. He was fired in 2005 after he came into the store he worked at on his off hours to engage in a union protest. He then became involved in an altercation with a customer who was also a Starbucks manager from a different store. The worker told the other manager "You can go f--- yourself" in front of customers, among other things.
The board ruled that while the actions would ordinarily be firing offenses, Starbucks' real reason for firing the worker was his pro-union activity. It noted various cases where Starbucks had not fired employees for profane outbursts — including the other manager in the dispute, even though he also used profanity in the same exchange.
In both cases, the employers were ordered to rehire the employees and pay them for lost wages.