Chipotle's Social Media Rules Violated Labor Laws

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on March 21, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When James Kennedy criticized his employer Chipotle over their wages in the form of a Tweet, he found himself suddenly without a job. According to the opinion of ALJ Susan A. Flynn, Chipotle's actions ran afoul of the National Labor Relations Act.

In a somewhat embarrassing twist for Chipotle, the company is also being forced to post signs around its eateries informing employees about how it violated the law.

Ask Questions First, Shoot Later

Chipotle had various social media rules in effect that basically banned critical comments about the company. When Kennedy tweeted critical comments about his and other's wages, Chipotle fired him a week later.

A Pennsylvania Administrative Law Judge reviewed the facts and concluded that Chipotle's social media rules were in direct conflict with the National Labor Relations Act. Under the act, comments are exempted under federal law because they represent such speech that is the collective voice of workers acting together to improve wages and conditions.

The ruling also ordered the company to post signs acknowledging their unlawful acts.

Bad Year for Chipotle

The years of 2015 and 2016 have been bad for the burrito company. Stock prices plunged due to faltering profits and the E.Coli outbreak. Even California's U.S. Attorney's Office has threatened expansion into a criminal investigation that will look into company-wide safety protocols.

Food Vouchers

Kennedy is employed with American Airlines and working under a union. In his words, "Working with an actual union versus an at-will shop like Chipotle is like night and day." He has no intention of going back to work for Chipotle despite a court order to hire him back with back pay and damages. He has intimated that he would be willing to accept his damages in the form of food vouchers.

"You cannot deny that their food is delicious, but their labor policies were atrocious."

In-House Lawyers Can Help

In-house counsel would be wise to warn their clients to let cool heads prevail if there is ever an issue that appears first to be fixable through firing someone. They employer could end up with a lot more than they bargained for. The NLRB has consistently acted as a thorn in the sides of employers; it would be a good idea for in-house lawyers to review the latest law in order to best guide their companies.

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