Employee Cusses out Supervisor due to Workplace Harassment Protected by NLRB

We have all had bad days at work where personal or professional circumstances put us in a mood where we “just can’t take it anymore.” Many of us have had visions of walking into a demanding supervisor’s office and “reading him or her the riot act.” We may have even had a casual conversation during the holidays where we suggest to our Cousin Eddie that he tie up the boss and bring him to the house so that we can tell him off in person. Suffice to say, most employees are rational people who never go to such extreme measures, and those who do can reasonably expect to be fired. Unfortunately, the extreme reactions discussed above are often responses to serious (and illegal) conduct on behalf of a supervisor in the form of workplace harassment.

What is Workplace Harassment?

Workplace harassment is a form of discrimination that is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as various other state and federal laws. These laws prohibit conduct based on a protected category (race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or genetic information) where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of employment or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.

Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance. It is important to note that workplace harassment can come from a supervisor, co-worker or even a non-employee.

Employees Who Attempt to Combat Conduct They Feel is Harassing Receive New Protection from the NLRB

On May 28, 2014, in Plaza Auto Center and Nick Aguirre, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that a car salesman named Nick Aguirre, who cussed out his employer for giving him a hard time after Aguirre complained about the compensation structure at the car dealership, was engaged in acceptable conduct. The crux of the Board’s decision stated that while such an employee’s conduct may be obscene, it did not rise to “menacing, physically aggressive, or belligerent conduct.” Because the employee’s outburst was about work, the Board concluded that the employee was discharged due to “protected, concerted activity” in violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). One other important thing to note is that the car dealership where the employee in Plaza Auto Center worked was a non-union environment.

The supervisor conduct that led to Aguirre’s outburst may have been harassing in this view (depending on the circumstances). In any event, Aguirre was obviously unhappy with the way he was being treated at work. Although the Board’s decision in this case was extreme, it paints a worst-case scenario for employers and their managers who come into conflict with a disgruntled employee. As such, it is all the more important to protect your business with management training that provides the greatest level of protection against workplace harassment.

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing Ethics and HR Compliance Training including harassment prevention training. Contact us today at 888-289-6670 to discuss the ways Syntrio, Inc. can help your supervisors and HR Professionals ensure that they are up to date with state and federal laws.

Posted in Compliance Training and tagged , , , , , , , , .