NLRB says it’s OK to cuss out your boss

The National Labor Relations Board has ordered an employer to rehire two workers fired for a sending a profanity-laced note to their company CEO.

The board concluded that the comments were protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act, aimed at drawing attention to alleged poor working conditions.

Here’s what happened: Two West Virginia coal miners, Richard Harrison and Jesse Stolzenfels, registered their unhappiness at their employer, Murray American Energy, in an unusual way. They sent bonus checks they had received back to CEO Robert Murray—and scribbled some choice profanities on the checks to make sure Murray got the message.

Their displeasure stemmed from a bonus plan the company had implemented that many union members believed put productivity ahead of worker safety.

When the bonus checks arrived, Harrison returned his to the payroll office with a note that said “Kiss my ass Bob.” Stolzenfels wrote, “Eat s**t Bob.” But before they returned the checks, the men took pictures of them, which they then posted on their union’s Facebook page.

Other workers followed suit, posting pictures of their voided (but profanity free) bonus checks.

When Harrison and Stolzenfels were both fired, the NLRB took up their unfair labor practices complaint.

The board judge hearing the case ordered both men reinstated. The NLRB concluded that, while profane and offensive, their comments, “were nevertheless expressions of protest and outrage over what those employees viewed as implementation of a plan that would adversely affect their safety conditions … .”

In other words, the men were trying to make a point about working conditions that they believed put them and other miners in danger when they chose to curse out their company CEO.

Final note: Remember that the National Labor Relations Act applies to all employers, not just those in a union environment. Before punishing a worker for using profanity directed at a company policy or practice, consult your attorney. He or she can best determine whether the cursing constitutes protected concerted activity.