- The National Labor Relations Board's regional office in Minneapolis filed a complaint against Home Depot Aug. 12, alleging that the company suspended and later fired an employee who displayed a "Black Lives Matter slogan" on his apron and raised racial harassment issues with co-workers and managers, according to a statement.
- The employee refused to remove the slogan from his apron, leading to his suspension and termination, which violated the protections of the National Labor Relations Act, NLRB alleged. It further alleged that Home Depot "unlawfully enforced its otherwise lawful dress code and apron policies, and threatened employees not to engage in activity regarding racial harassment."
- "Region 18's press release misrepresents the relevant facts," a Home Depot spokesperson told HR Dive in an email. "The Home Depot does not tolerate workplace harassment of any kind and takes all reports of discrimination or harassment seriously, as we did in this case. We disagree with the characterization of this situation and look forward to sharing the facts during the NLRB's process. Regardless of the outcome, we will continue to be fully committed to diversity and respect for all people."
NLRB's charge is one of the latest inquiries regarding political expression in the workplace, a heated topic in the past year during a societal reckoning on systemic racism.
The Home Depot situation may have some parallels with one of the agency's previous actions, a ruling against In-N-Out Burger, in which it determined that the restaurant chain violated the NLRA when it asked employees to remove buttons from their uniforms supporting nationwide minimum wage campaign Fight For $15. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the agency's ruling, while the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.
Black Lives Matter messaging also factored into a 2020 lawsuit filed by employees of Whole Foods. The workers alleged that the grocer disciplined employees who wore masks designed to support the movement as part of a prohibition on wearing clothing with visible slogans, messages, logos or advertising not related to the company.
However, the Whole Foods employees alleged that Whole Foods violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In February, a federal judge granted Whole Foods owner Amazon's motion to dismiss the claims and granted the same to Whole Foods with the exception of one count of retaliation against one of the employees named in the class action suit. The plaintiffs in the case have appealed.
Employers generally can create and enforce policies prohibiting political speech in the workplace, attorneys previously told HR Dive, so long as such policies are enforced evenly and without discrimination against protected groups of employees.