It turns out that freedom of speech doesn't always extend to whistleblowing the company you work for.
In a stunning decision, the full U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Jimmy John's franchisee in Minnesota had legally fired six employees that protested the company's sick leave policy under the reasoning that they lost legal protections for being "disloyal."
The ruling reverses three past decisions on the same case made in favor of the staffers dating back to 2012, including a more recent appeal made by the franchisee in front of a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit.
All of this started back in 2011, when pro-union Jimmy John's employees underneath franchisee MikLin Enterprises attempted to organize under a campaign that emphasized their lack of paid sick leave (Only 27 percent of those in low-income jobs, including the fast food industry, receive this benefit). The Jimmy John's personnel created the meme displayed in the above tweet and put it on posters to bring attention to their plight and warn people that sick laborers could be handling their food.
After six employees were fired for these actions, they retaliated and won a ruling in 2012 that their organizing rights were violated and that they should be rehired and receive back pay. MikLin Enterprises, however, has been continually appealing the decision under the claim that the campaign was "disloyal" and thus couldn't be considered as protected speech. They finally got the win they were looking for with this latest turn of events.
With the 8th Circuit Court's full agreement, workplace fairness advocates expressed concerns to ATTN that the new ruling gives more power to corporations to "retaliate against employees brave enough to stand up to them" and make people "more hesitant to challenge the actions of the company that will grab the public's attention."
We have yet to see if the workers will attempt to appeal this decision further through the appellate court system, but considering that their next step would be to take this to the Supreme Court — which hears less than one percent of cases presented before it — it's a huge risk to take. However, if the case goes up to the Supreme Court and they ruled in favor of the Jimmy John's employees, it would be a huge win for laborer's rights.