[maxgallery id=”38863″]By Brian Fung – July 10, 2015
AT&T didn’t break the law when it forbade its technicians and other public-facing employees from wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Inmate” and “Prisoner of AT$T,” a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
The ruling overturns a decision by the National Labor Relations Board and permits AT&T to ban the donning of negative T-shirts under an exception to the nation’s labor laws.
The case began when AT&T suspended 183 Connecticut workers who refused to take off the offending shirts. The union that represents AT&T employees, the Communications Workers of America, accused the company of unfair labor practices.
Writing for the court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said that it was “common sense” for AT&T to want to avoid having customers see their employees walking around with those shirts on.
AT&T argued that “the shirts could alarm or confuse customers, could cause customers to believe that AT&T employees were actually convicts, or could harm the company’s public image more generally,” Kavanaugh wrote in the decision.
Under the National Labor Relations Act, Kavanaugh added, employers are not allowed to prevent their workers from wearing union clothes — unless the company “reasonably believes” the attire would “harm its relationship with customers or its public image.”
AT&T has convinced the court that the Inmate/Prisoner shirts would have done just that.
“We’re pleased with Court’s common sense approval of our apparel policies,” said AT&T spokesman Marty Richter. “While we respect our employees’ right to express their opinions, it is our policy to require appropriate dress for employees in customer-facing positions.”
A spokesperson for the Communications Workers of America declined to comment.