Feb 25, 2016
An interesting employee advocacy issue is brewing in Silicon Valley. Last week Talia Jane, a writer and Yelp employee posted a witty open letter to Yelp's CEO on Medium. In the letter, Ms. Jane described how Yelp employees could barely survive on their low wages and how she had been unable to afford groceries since beginning her job.
We all know that publicly embarrassing your CEO is typically a good way to get you fired. Unsurprisingly, Talia Jane reports that Yelp did indeed terminate her. But...if Yelp truly fired Ms. Jane because of her open letter could they have violated the law?
The National Labor Relations Board enforces the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA.") While most people think of the NLRA as applying to union-related activity, Under Section 7 of the NLRA, individuals are protected who engage in "protected concerted activity." Protected concerted activity includes actions taken by a single employee or a group of employees who seek to "improve their pay or working conditions." Based on Talia Jane's open letter, it would seem that she would fall under this category. In addition, the NLRB has specifically found it unlawful for employers to terminate employees for posting criticism of their employers on Facebook. As a result, Yelp would not have a defense that her termination was justified because Ms. Jane aired Yelp's dirty laundry.
Without all of the facts related to Ms. Jane's termination we can't know for sure, but there is certainly a question here as to whether the NLRA has been violated. To employers considering firing an employee who has advocated on behalf of her co-workers, I would advise a cautious approach to ensure compliance with federal regulations.