HR Strange But True!
November 17, 2011

Don’t you just hate it when your new haircut is the pits, or you’re just having a bad hair day! Ever thought of wearing a hat to work to cover up the mess? One employee did just that and landed her employer in a mess of trouble with the NLRB, according to the agency’s website.

An employee wore a hat at work for a week because of her terrible haircut. No one commented. It wasn’t until the HR director told the employee she was in violation of the company’s dress code that she was issued a written warning for insubordination.

Then she noticed that other people, mostly males, were wearing hats, exposing tattoos, and manifesting other things prohibited in the dress code. She approached management with her concerns and was told to “just take care of herself” and asked if she was “going to let a hat come in between the food on [her] kids’ table,” according to the NLRB and 4th Circuit Court summaries.

She discussed her situation with her female co-workers who agreed with her that the dress code was unfairly enforced and seemed discriminatory against females. Miffed, the employee, with the help of a co-worker, walked around the workplace snapping pictures of four dress code offenders (three males and one female) with her cell phone camera. She showed the photos around the workplace.

When she showed the photos to management as proof of her initial objections, an employer administrator asked if the employees in the pictures knew if they were being photographed. Two of the offenders gave permission for the photos. One offender complained to HR about the pictures, which initiated an investigation.

The next day the employer terminated the woman with the bad haircut for violating the employer’s policy against taking pictures inside the facility without written permission.

The employee then brought a complaint to the NLRB, claiming the picture-taking was “protected concerted activity” because she was documenting unfair treatment in the workplace regarding the unequal application of the dress code and that the manager’s remark was a veiled threat of termination.

The NLRB found that the photography was indeed a protected concerted activity, the employer’s enforcement of the dress code was indeed unfair, and that her conduct was not “egregious” enough to warrant termination, especially since the employer did not enforce its picture-taking policy. In fact, employees routinely took pictures of each other at work.

Upon review, the 4th Circuit Court upheld the NLRB’s brief, against the employer’s objections, saying that the employee did not lose the safeguards of the National Labor Relations Act by violating the employer’s picture-taking policy, and an application for enforcement was granted.


NLRB , Court Opinion (4th Circuit)

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