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the NALS docket April 2012 : Page 3

By Melissa K. Hinote, CP Eyebrows were raised when a law firm in Florida made headlines in March for terminating the employment of 14 staff members when they wore orange shirts to work on the Friday before Saint Patrick’s Day. Above the Law caught wind of the story from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. 1 Apparently, the 14 workers were pulled into a conference room where an executive explained that he believed the orange signified some sort of protest. When the executive then offered to allow anyone wearing orange for an innocent reason to speak up, one person did and said that they had chosen to wear orange because of plans to go to happy hour together after work. The executives deliberated, then fired them all anyway. However, because Florida is an at-will state, a labor and employment attorney told the Sun-Sentinel that she saw no apparent violation of the law. While employers cannot discriminate on the basis of race or other protected classes, in Florida they are still free to discriminate on color choice in clothes—a liberty this Florida mortgage firm appeared to have taken full advantage of in this situation. The tale does not end there. The Pittsburgh Employment Law Blog kept up with the story, and found that several of the staffers did indeed say they had been protesting working conditions; however, others were rehired after telling managers they were wearing the color by coincidence and not as part of a coordinated protest. According to the April 4, 2012, entry on behalf of Samuel J. Cordes & Associates at the Pittsburgh Employment Law Blog 2 , the case brings up several issues in employment law, “most significantly, it is illegal to fire workers for protesting working conditions under the National Labor Relations Act.” The law protects such activities and safeguards employees from harassment and restrictions of freedom of speech. This case represents a possible violation of the law if management fired the employees for engaging in a protest. The workers had complained of new restrictions prohibiting them from speaking to each other over cubicle walls or going to the break room to get beverages while on the clock. Of course, while there are plenty of implications for employment law, this story holds many practical questions as well. For instance, how effective is managing through fear and restriction? How important is it for management to win a battle over simple workplace freedoms like getting coffee refills? Is it worth losing 14 employees in 1 day and presumably having to spread their workload across the desks of everyone else, at least temporarily? How expensive is it to lose 14 employees at once? Finally, after all the headlines, the possible legal battle, and the public argument between management and staff, will the firm be able to recruit smart, motivated staff members in the future? Perhaps the better question is, would you work there? 1 2 http://abovethelaw.com/2012/03/orange-a-color-that-can-get-you-fired-in-florida/ http://www.pittsburghemploymentlawblog.com/2012/04/ orange-shirt-wearing-workers-allegedly-fired-for-protesting-new-policies.shtml April 2012 3

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Melissa K. Hinote

Eyebrows were raised when a law firm in Florida made headlines in March for terminating the employment of 14 staff members when they wore orange shirts to work on the Friday before Saint Patrick’s Day.Above the Law caught wind of the story from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.1 Apparently, the 14 workers were pulled into a conference room where an executive explained that he believed the orange signified some sort of protest. When the executive then offered to allow anyone wearing orange for an innocent reason to speak up, one person did and said that they had chosen to wear orange because of plans to go to happy hour together after work. The executives deliberated, then fired them all anyway. However, because Florida is an at-will state, a labor and employment attorney told the Sun-Sentinel that she saw no apparent violation of the law. While employers cannot discriminate on the basis of race or other protected classes, in Florida they are still free to discriminate on color choice in clothes—a liberty this Florida mortgage firm appeared to have taken full advantage of in this situation.<br /> <br /> The tale does not end there. The Pittsburgh Employment Law Blog kept up with the story, and found that several of the staffers did indeed say they had been protesting working conditions; however, others were rehired after telling managers they were wearing the color by coincidence and not as part of a coordinated protest.<br /> <br /> According to the April 4, 2012, entry on behalf of Samuel J. Cordes & Associates at the Pittsburgh Employment Law Blog2, the case brings up several issues in employment law, “most significantly, it is illegal to fire workers for protesting working conditions under the National Labor Relations Act.” The law protects such activities and safeguards employees from harassment and restrictions of freedom of speech.This case represents a possible violation of the law if management fired the employees for engaging in a protest. The workers had complained of new restrictions prohibiting them from speaking to each other over cubicle walls or going to the break room to get beverages while on the clock.<br /> <br /> Of course, while there are plenty of implications for employment law, this story holds many practical questions as well. For instance, how effective is managing through fear and restriction? How important is it for management to win a battle over simple workplace freedoms like getting coffee refills? Is it worth losing 14 employees in 1 day and presumably having to spread their workload across the desks of everyone else, at least temporarily?How expensive is it to lose 14 employees at once? Finally, after all the headlines, the possible legal battle, and the public argument between management and staff, will the firm be able to recruit smart, motivated staff members in the future? Perhaps the better question is, would you work there?<br /> <br /> 1.http://abovethelaw.com/2012/03/orange-a-color-that-can-getyou- fired-in-florida/ <br /> <br /> 2.http://www.pittsburghemploymentlawblog.com/2012/04/ orange-shirt-wearing-workers-allegedly-fired-for-protesting-newpolicies.Shtml

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