- The NLRB is alleging Whole Foods illegally banned employees from wearing Black Lives Matter attire.
- Employees in 10 states claim they experienced punitive action from the Amazon-owned company for wearing BLM apparel.
- US labor prosecutors said Whole Foods violated federal labor law, which permits collective action in the workplace.
The National Labor Relations Board alleged that Whole Foods Market illegally banned employees from wearing “Black Lives Matter” apparel on the job.
In a complaint issued by the NLRB’s San Francisco office on Friday and first reported on by Bloomberg, the organization claimed the Amazon-owned grocery chain broke federal labor law by prohibiting staffers from wearing or displaying Black Lives Matter messaging on their masks or clothes.
The dress code was enforced in 2020 during the height of national Black Lives Matter protests that swept the country in response to the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, the filing states. Whole Foods was among a number of companies across industries where employees participated in demonstrations calling attention to issues of racial injustice in the workplace.
A Whole Foods spokesperson told Insider that the company’s dress code policy prohibits employees from wearing attire with visible slogans, messages, or logos displaying statements not related to the company. No individual message or slogan is specified in the policy or enforced individually, the spokesperson noted.
“Our dress code policy is designed to ensure we are giving team members a workplace and customers a shopping experience focused entirely on excellent service and high-quality food,” the spokesperson told Insider. “We do not believe we should compromise that experience by introducing any messages on uniforms, regardless of the content, that shift the focus away from our mission.”
The NLRB claims Whole Foods was in violation of federal labor law, under which workers have the right to engage in “concerted activities for their mutual aid and protection,” and participate in collective action tied to issues in the workplace.
According to the filing, Whole Foods also illegally participated in retaliatory behavior against employees who wore the apparel, including allegedly sending some staffers home without pay and firing others. Workers in 10 states said they faced punitive action from the company.
“Issues of racial harassment and discrimination are central to employees’ working conditions, and the National Labor Relations Act protects employees’ right to advocate for change,” Jill Coffman, the NLRB regional director in San Francisco, said in a statement. “Through this complaint, we seek to enforce the act and protect workers’ rights to speak up about these important issues.”
The NLRB has responded to multiple complaints over the past year regarding alleged retaliatory behavior against staffers who have spoken out against racism and discrimination at companies like Apple, Google, and Netflix.
A representative for the NLRB did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.