DirectTV contractors win 'protected speech' case after airing complaints on TV
- A contractor fired employees after they spoke out against their company’s new pay policy in a television interview, but now the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has ruled that their interview was protected speech and their termination unlawful, SHRM reports.
- The company, MasTec, hires technicians to install satellite television connectors in the homes of DirecTV subscribers. According to the report, MasTec had the lowest number of installations among DirectTV’s contractors across the nation. To get the technicians to install more connectors, the contractor adopted a new policy tying their pay to performance. The technicians thought the policy was unfair and aired their complaint in a television interview. After being fired, they filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that their firings violated the law.
- The NLRB backed their claim. But a judge’s later ruling favored the contractor and DirecTV. The technicians ultimately won on appeal because the TV interview, according to the appeals court, was the technicians’ way of getting a third party, the TV audience, involved in an “ongoing” dispute. Communication during an ongoing dispute is protected under the National Labor Relations Act, explained the court. The defendants didn’t contest the fact that the dispute with the technicians was ongoing and lost the case.
The contractor believed he was right in firing the technicians because he perceived the interview as a show of disloyalty. But the case turned on a technicality: the nature of the conflict as an ongoing dispute. Such nuances in the law could make punishing or firing a worker a violation of the law. When a dispute comes up, companies can protect themselves by knowing where the law stands on the issue.
Employees might appear disloyal, even insubordinate, by going to third parties with complaints about working conditions. Companies might perceive employees’ use of social media to air workplace-related grievances the same way. But in cases like MasTec’s, employers should decide whether the technician’s interview actually harmed the company before acting.