A federal administrative law judge has ruled that Home Depot is permitted under labor laws to prohibit employees from wearing Black Lives Matter (BLM) logos on their work aprons while on duty. The judge found that the restriction is an appropriate part of the company’s uniform regulations and does not violate labor rights.
Judge Paul Bogas of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Division of Judges ruled against the argument made by the NLRB on behalf of workers that the ban on BLM images was an unlawful infringement of political speech and rights set out by federal statutes.
In his ruling, Bogas wrote that BLM’s message originated with claims of “unjustified killings of Black individuals by law enforcement and vigilantes,” and therefore is not directly related to employees’ work conditions or labor rights while on duty at the retail hardware giant.
Home Depot had more than 490,000 employees worldwide last year and earned more than $151 billion in global revenue.
Bogas’ ruling found that “BLM messaging is not inherently concerted” and does not have a direct relationship to the terms and conditions of employment that would make it subject to labor protection rules.
The NLRB argued that the company prohibited BLM materials on work uniforms in ways that amounted to “selective and disparate enforcement.” The agency said that the federal law provides workers with broad rights to raise political issues such as those addressed by the BLM movement in order to “improve their working conditions.”
The National Labor Relations Act protects both union and non-union employees in their right to engage in “collective action about workplace conditions.” The NLRB attorneys also argued that BLM messaging qualified as such collective action.
The judge disagreed, writing that the BLM messaging “operates as a political umbrella for societal concerns and relates to the workplace only in the sense that workplaces are part of society.”
Home Depot has not yet commented on the ruling but has previously said that the NLRB has misrepresented the relevant facts regarding the company’s full commitment to “diversity and respect for all people.”
The administrative law judge’s ruling can be appealed directly to the NLRB board members. Democratic appointees currently hold a majority of that board. Further appeals are available from the full board to federal court.