A judge upheld last Friday that Home Depot has the right to decide what its employees should and should not wear to work.
According to Fox Business, in August of 2020, an employee at a Minneapolis Home Depot decided to wear a “Black Lives Matter” message on his apron, directly breaking Home Depot’s uniform policy of not wearing any political or religious messaging "unrelated to workplace matters" on employees clothes or uniforms, according to NPR News.
The company then offered him an ultimatum: remove the BLM logo, or quit. The anonymous employee chose to keep wearing it, so he was suspended and then later resigned.
The former worker then sued in March 2021, and in August of that year the U.S. National Labor Relations Board got involved and filed an official complaint against Home Depot, saying that they violated federal law and that they "threatened employees with unspecified consequences if they engaged in protected concerted activities regarding racial harassment."
“It’s a symbol of alliance,” the employee contended. “I have never seen it as something political myself. It’s something that I put on so that people know to approach me. I am a person of color myself, so it’s a form of solidarity. It’s a way … for people to feel safe around me.”
Home Depot argued that “Black Lives Matter” was political messaging and that an area manager had encouraged the employee to write something else on his apron, such as “diversity,” “equality” and “inclusion,” according to Yahoo! News.
The NLRB lawyers defending the ex-employee did not argue whether ‘BLM’ was political messaging, but asserted that he was exercising his right to “concerted activity,” which according to NPR News is defined as “as any action taken with coworkers in an effort to improve working conditions, including talking with coworkers about earnings, petitioning for more hours and speaking with media or government agencies about workplace issues.”
Judge Paul Bogas did not find this convincing, however. The NLRB judge wrote in his opinion that the wearing of the BLM apron did not meet the criteria for being “concerted activity.” In order to meet the standard, the prohibited messaging has to be done by a group of employees trying to improve working conditions, according to NPR News.
Rather, the record shows that the message was primarily used, and generally understood, to address the unjustified killings of Black individuals by law enforcement and vigilantes. A message about unjustified killings of Black men, while a matter of profound societal importance, is not directly relevant to the terms, conditions, or lot of Home Depot's employees as employees.
While the case is over for now, the ruling could be appealed to the labor board in Washington D.C. which is currently controlled by Democrats, according to Fox Business.