Last month, 14 workers were fired from a law firm in the U.S. for wearing orange shirts to work. Six of those workers are now considering filing a wrongful termination lawsuit against the employer, claiming that their former employer had no legal right to fire them. Only three of the workers have been able to get their jobs back since the incident.
The workers were all fired on the same day. According to the employer, the workers planned to wear orange to work on the same day in order to show their disapproval of the way their manager was running the office. A new set of strict rules had recently been imposed at the law firm, which prevented workers from speaking over the tops of cubicles to discuss issues concerning their work-related tasks. Employees were also required to clock out if they wanted to get coffee from the break room.
Previous case law has determined that firing workers for using their attire in order to protest work conditions is generally unlawful. A case involving AT&T resulted in a valid wrongful termination claim against the company that had been filed by employees after they were fired for wearing shirts that read, “Prisoner of AT$T.” Those employees were shielded by the National Labor Relations Act. Under the National Labor Relations Act, workers jobs are protected if they choose to discuss, comment or complain about the conditions in their workplace.
Although the law firm employees might be protected under the National Labor Relations Act, their employer might also be protected by “at will” rules. In some states, including California, one’s employment may be considered at will unless an employer specifies otherwise. This means that an employee could be fired at any time for any reason — even for wearing an orange shirt to work — as long as the employer’s reasoning does not violate other state or federal laws.
California employment and labor laws can be confusing, especially if one’s employment is presumed to be at will. If an individual believes that he or she was fired illegally, the individual may want to consider seeking assistance from an attorney in order to determine if he or she should pursue a wrongful termination claim.
Source: abc news, “Fired Orange Worker Couldn’t Speak Over Cubicle Walls?” Susanna Kim, March 27, 2012