'We failed you' | Home Depot broke law by forcing employees to remove 'Black Lives Matter' initials from uniform

Home Depot broke law by forcing employees to remove 'Black Lives Matter' initials from uniform

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled Home Depot broke the law by asking employees to remove “Black Lives Matter” writing from their uniform, with an employee who refused to remove the initials subject to unlawful constructive dismissal.

Amid the wave of Black Lives Matter protests that followed the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department, several employees at a Home Depot Store in New Brighton, a suburb of Minneapolis, wrote the letters BLM on their uniform.

A store manager asked the workers to remove the logo from their uniform, citing Home Depot store policy that “displaying [on an apron] causes or political messages unrelated to workplace matters.

The rights of employees to wear items including buttons, pins, and other items displaying a message relating to “terms and conditions of employment, unionization, and other protected matters” is protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.

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The NLBR rules the BLM initials were worn to protest racial injustice and therefore constituted “protected concerted activity.”

One employee, Antonio Morales, refused to remove the initials. The board decision states that a Home Depot store manager told Morales that if he permitted the worker to continue sporting the BLM initials, “he would have to let other employees wear swastikas.”

“No one is listening”: Home Depot’s HR failure

The decision accounts for the racial discrimination that Morales and other employees had experienced leading up to the incident in the store. Morales and his colleagues had reported a co-worker who had told Morales to “watch a Black customer closely” as “people of Somali descent were more inclined than others to steal,” among multiple other incidents.

Morales spoke with supervisors and managers multiple times from October to December 2020, who stated they would report the issue to corporate HR.

In February 2021, multiple Black History Month displays set up by employees were vandalized and destroyed. Morales and his colleagues emailed a store manager and supervisor, suggesting that the incidents were “part of a very serious underlying issue that needs to be a store-wide discussion.”

The store manager “admonished” Morales, stated they should leave the issue to management, and instead highlighted the BLM logo on Morales’ apron. Morales had been wearing the BLM initials on the apron for five months without reprimand up to that date.

A stand-off ensued in a follow-up conversation with a district manager and district HR manager. The managers also made the argument that by allowing the BLM logo to be worn they would also have to allow others to wear a swastika – which Morales argued was flawed logic – and told Morales he would not be allowed to work in the store if he continued to wear the BLM initials on his apron.

Morales refused to remove the initials, stating he was willing to be fired over the issue. Home Depot encouraged him to consider other options and said they would not fire him but implored him to consider other options. Morales gave the example of the Black History Month displays as another option, and how they had been torn down.

“It seems like no one is listening,” Morales told HR. “It’s been six months, and nothing has been done.”

Home Depot managers “repeatedly and emphatically” admitted to Morales that “we failed you” and agreed with Morales’ arguments. “There’s a lot of things that have not been taken care of for you that have put you in a position where I know you don’t feel respected when you come to work, and that’s what breaks my heart,” the district manager stated.

However, Morales was told to leave early. He handed in his resignation a day later.

The NLRB decision demands “full reinstatement” for Morales. It also orders Home Depot to compensate Morales for the loss of earnings and other benefits suffered from what it deems an unlawful constructive discharge.

The Home Depot says it disagrees with the decision, stating it is “fully committed to diversity and respect for all people.”

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