This is an interesting case that discusses workers wearing union supporting T-shirts. In this case, the case depended on whether the shirt was “insulting” and affected the employer’s business.
The DC Court, after reviewing a decision by the National Labor Relations Board, held that a T-shirt bearing the union logo with a slogan stating “I don’t need a WOW to do my job” was insulting and the union worker could not wear that T-shirt. The opinion can be accessed here.
The background is as follows. Medco, the employer, has a WOW program – which centers on weekly events at which designated employees receive WOW awards for their achievements. When the worker was summoned to a meeting with management and a client, management ordered the union worker to remove the shirt. In addition, management, in sum or substance, told the worker that if he didn’t support the WOW program, he should look for other jobs.
Medco argued that the shirt violated the company’s ban on “phrases, words, statements, pictures, cartoons or drawings that are degrading, confrontational, slanderous, insulting or provocative.”
The National Labor Relations Board nevertheless found that the worker wore the shirt as a union-supported protest, and management unlawfully invited the worker to quit his job in response to his protest of working conditions.
The DC court disagreed. The court stated,
Medco makes a straightforward argument that the message on the T-shirt was insulting to the company and would have undermined its efforts to attract and retain customers.
To that end, Medco has provided considerable evidence that the WOW program is an important element of the pitch it gives prospective and current clients.
Nevertheless, the DC court also explained,
We do not think the board has adequately explained why Medco’s claim of harm to customer relations requires evidence beyond what it has already adduced. … Especially for a firm selling a service, concern for customers’ appraisal of its employees’ attitudes seems natural. Obviously we don’t mean to suggest that employers are free to suppress employee speech in the interest of presenting a Potemkin village of intra-firm harmony, but that is quite different from trying to exclude the display of slogans that an outsider might read as sullen resentment (especially when the object of discontent is something so seemingly inoffensive as the WOW program).
(Italics and parentheses in original.)