This labor relations case shows how corporate social media policies and employee social media use are fraught with controversy and legal troubles for companies as well as workers.
It seems lately that Chipotle just can’t get a break. A Chipotle worker who was terminated for posting critical comments about the company on Twitter has won a big legal fight against the burrito behemoth.
Last week, administrative law judge Susan A. Flynn ruled that Chipotle’ social media policy that restricts employees from criticizing the company violates the National Labor Relations Act. The issue involves Chipotle’s firing of an employee for a Twitter post that criticized the company.
At the beginning of 2015, Chipotle employee, James Kennedy, 38, posted the following tweet:
“@ChipotleTweets, nothing is free, only cheap #labor. Crew members make only $8.50hr how much is that steak bowl really?”
Kennedy deleted the tweet after his boss informed him that his Twitter post violated the company’s social media policy, which prohibits employees from posting disparaging and false statements about the company on social networks. However, Kennedy was disciplined again distributing a petition to fellow employees that criticized Chipotle’s company policy on employee breaks.
Kennedy was eventually fired in February 2015 from his job at a Chipotle location in Havertown, Pennsylvania two weeks after posting the tweet.
On March 14th, Judge Flynn ordered the company to pay lost wages to James Kennedy and ruled that Chipotle was in violation of the National Labor Relations Act for enforcing an illegal social media policy on their employees.
In her ruling, Judge Flynn stated that employers cannot prohibit employees from posting statements on social media that are merely false or misleading. She further stated in her ruling that in order for an employee to lose protections granted by the National Labor Relations act, an employee must have been found to have made statements that had a malicious motive.
In addition, Judge Flynn ordered Chipotle to offer James Kennedy his job back. She also ruled that the company has to post notices at several of their locations stating that their social media policy was found to be in violation of federal labor law.
Flynn’s ruling has set a major legal precedent in favor of the social media rights of employees who criticize their employers on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Judge Flynn told news media that if people want to tweet something about their personal experience at their jobs, they should go ahead and do it. She said people should tweet about their bosses and employers to put a public spotlight on them and their management practices.
James Kennedy was represented by the Pennsylvania Workers Organizing Committee and the National Labor Relations Board agreed with the complaints that were filed by the PWOC in the case.
James Kennedy is now employed by American Airlines and hasn’t said publicly whether or not he would go back to his job at Chipotle. However, he did say that he is willing to accept his lost wages in the form of free food cards since he still thinks that Chipotle food is delicious. So far, Chipotle has not commented publicly on Judge Flynn’s ruling.