The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on October 1, 2012, announced that it found that Knauz BMW in Lake Bluff did not violate federal labor law when it fired a salesman for mocking the dealership on his Facebook page.
Knauz held a luxury sales event in June 2011 featuring hot dogs, chips and bottled water. Before the event, the salesman, “Henry,” along with fellow staff, expressed concerns that the refreshments were too cheap for BMW’s luxury image.
The following week, Henry posted photos of the sales event with snarky comments about the food, including “No, that’s not champagne or wine, it’s 8 oz. water.” On the same day, a Land Rover was accidentally driven over a curb and into a pond at an adjacent Knauz dealership. Henry posted about that as well, publishing photos of the Land Rover stranded in the pond.
“This is what happens when a sales Person sitting in the front passenger seat … allows a 13 year old boy to get behind the wheel of a 6000 lb. truck built … to drive over pretty much anything,” Henry wrote. “The kid drives over his father’s foot and into the pond in all about 4 seconds and destroys a $50,000 truck. OOOPS!”
At the time, Henry’s comments were visible to numerous fellow employees and others outside the dealership. The following week, Henry was fired.
NLRB administrative law judge Joel Biblowitz found that the posting about the sales event might have been protected under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) because it involved coworkers who were worried about the effect of the refreshments on the company’s image and, by extension, their sales. Knauz management testified, however, that Henry was fired because of the posting about the Land Rover accident.
That posting, Judge Biblowitz found, was “obviously unprotected” because it “was posted solely by [Henry], apparently as a lark, without any discussion with any other employee … and had no connection to any of the employees’ terms and conditions of employment.”
The NLRB also found that sections in the dealership’s employee handbook concerning courtesy and communicating with the public were unlawful. Knauz rescinded the policies before trial, but was ordered to publish a notice stating that the policies violated the NLRA and enumerating employees’ rights under the Act.
Related article: NLRB rules on social media and courtesy policies