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Chipotle Can No Longer Fire Employees for Complaining on Twitter

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 29, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Social media has presented a plethora of potential challenges for employers. Should you follow your employees on Twitter? How should you handle an employee's offensive personal tweets? Should you fire an employee for airing his grievances on Twitter, complaining about wages, and circulating a petition alleging workers couldn't take breaks?

While the answers to those first two questions are up to you, the third has just been decided by the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB recently ruled that Chipotle violated federal labor laws when it fired an employee over tweets that the burrito chain claimed were in violation of its social media policy.

Prohibited Posting

Havertown Chipotle employee James Kennedy caught the ire of his managers when he responded to a customer's tweet, thanking the chain for a free meal: "Nothing is free," Kennedy tweeted, "only cheap #labor. Crew members only make $8.50hr how much is that steak bowl really?" Kennedy deleted the tweet, but followed that by circulating a petition for managers to give employees their legally mandated break time. For this, Kennedy was fired.

Chipotle claimed Kennedy violated the chain's social media code of conduct that bars employees from posting false, disparaging, or inaccurate information. Kennedy challenged his firing, and the NLRB agreed.

Prohibited Policy

Not only did the Board say that Kennedy's firing was illegal, but that Chipotle's entire social media policy of prohibiting tweets about work violated the National Labor Relations Act. According to the ruling, workplace complaints about benefits, conditions, and hours or wages, are protecting from prohibition or retaliation; a good reminder for employers wondering if it's OK to fire employees over tweets.

Now Chipotle owes Kennedy his job and any lost wages, though reports he is already happily employed elsewhere. The company must also revamp its social media policy, stop "prohibiting employees from circulating petitions regarding the company's adherence to its break policy or any other terms and conditions of employment," and post signs acknowledging that some of its social media rules were illegal.

So before you fire an employee for tweeting about how bad your small business's benefits are, make sure you're complying with federal labor laws. Or better yet, call an experienced employment law attorney.

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