Hat Fight: NLRB Ruling Against Company Hat Policy Rejected by D.C. Circuit

Date: March 23, 2015

By Jeffrey Seaman

In World Color Corp. v. NLRB (D.C. Circuit No. 14-1028), the Court addressed a petition by a graphic printing company for review of a decision by the NLRB that the company's employee hat policy violated the National Labor Relations Act (“the Act”).  The employer's policy prohibited the wearing of baseball caps other than company caps bearing the company logo.  The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined that the policy violated the Act because it prohibited employees from wearing union caps that bore union insignia (and thereby violated the employees' rights under the Act). However, the policy also permitted employees to accessorize “in good taste and in accordance with all safety rules.”  The company argued that the NLRB erred in failing to consider the employees' ability, under the “accessorizing” portion of the policy, to apply union insignia to their company caps, and that, because employees were permitted to accessorize with union insignia, the policy did not violate the Act. 

The NLRB had found that there was “no dispute” that the policy prohibited employees from wearing caps that bore the union insignia. The Circuit Court disagreed, noting that the NLRB had failed to consider the “accessorizing” portion of the policy, which would permit employees to attach union insignia to their company caps. The Circuit Court remanded the case back to the NLRB for further consideration of the policy, including the employees' ability to accessorize with union insignia.

Takeaway:  If uniformed employees are permitted to accessorize, such that they could display union insignia, there's probably not a violation of the NLRA.