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Court rules against In-N-Out’s political pin ban #flair

(BUSINESS) Can a company forbid employees from wearing a political button or “flair”? One court calls this into question.

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button flair pins

While consistency, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, may be the last resort for those lacking in imagination, being consistent in the little things as a business owner, such as the enforcement of employee dress codes, can keep you out of court.

That’s the message that was delivered to In-N-Out Burger earlier this summer, when the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found that while In-N-Out Burger had a well-defined employee dress code, they lacked consistency in enforcement. Operating more than 300 locations throughout the United States, In-N-Out Burger’s dress code specifically states that “[w]earing any type of pin or stickers is not permitted.”

While the prohibition against wearing pins or buttons at any time of the year seems clearly stated, In-N-Out management intentionally contravened their rule by requiring their employees to wear pins during the holiday season to wish customers Merry Christmas, and do so again in April, in order to advertise and solicit donations for the In-N-Out Foundation, a corporately related nonprofit organization that combats child neglect and abuse.

In April 2015, employees of an In-N-Out location based in Austin, Texas attempted to wear buttons that advertised their solidarity with the “Fight for $15” campaign, advocating for a higher minimum wage for those in the food service industry. As the Society of Human Resources Managers (SHRM) noted, the buttons themselves were unobtrusive, approximately a quarter in size, with an image of a raised fist, with a “$15” over the fist.

Once managers on-site saw the buttons, they instructed their employees to remove them, citing the company rule that forbade them. The employees did so, but soon thereafter filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB), alleging that the company’s position prevented the employees from advocating for their conditions of employment. The NRLB investigated, and soon thereafter issued a complaint against In-N-Out, stating that the company’s total prohibition and enforcement were violations of the National Labor Relations Act.

In order to address these areas, In-N-Out was ordered by the NLRB to cease enforcement of a total prohibition against outside buttons that had no exceptions for those which pertained to conditions of work, including such protected activities as discussions of such terms or conditions of employment to include salary or hours, as well as any union or protected activities, by removing it from the employee handbook. Additionally, they were required to ensure that employees were notified by the change in the rule by posting notices at all locations about their rights.

In-N-Out appealed the action to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and maintained the position that they were simply preventing employees from wearing buttons because they wanted to maintain a consistent public image and to ensure employee and customer safety.

These arguments, however, were not compelling for the justices. The 5th Circuit found that by having their employees wear buttons of the company’s messaging, that employees of In-N-Out were not required to be free from pins or buttons or the messaging that they may have. The claim of safety presented by In-N-Out failed when it was revealed that no one from the company had ever examined the pins to see if there was a safety risk from them to the employees or customers alike.

So what’s to be done if you want to maintain a consistent employee image safe from rogue pieces of flair? First and foremost, understand that any prohibition should apply to all employees, cover all messages, and be enforced equally at all times. Because In-N-Out demanded that their employees wear buttons with corporate-approved messaging at designated points throughout the year, they failed to meet this threshold.

By having any exceptions at all, even well-meaning and universal ones, they opened the door to allowances for other messages to be worn.

The NLRB provides employees a generous swath to discuss their conditions of employment or other protected union activity in the workplace through the National Relations Labor Act, and relevant provisions should be reviewed and referenced in advance when creating and enforcing company policy to be referenced in employee handbooks or dress codes.

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Business News

This web platform for cannabis is blowing up online distribution

(BUSINESS NEWS) Dutchie, a website platform for cannabis companies, just octupled in value. Here’s what that means for the online growth of cannabis distribution.

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A small jar of cannabis on a desk with notebooks, sold online in a nicely made jar.

The cannabis industry has, for the most part, blossomed in the past few years, managing to hit only a few major snags along the way. One of those snags is the issue of payment processing, an issue compounded by predominantly cash-only transactions. Dutchie, a Bend, Oregon company, has helped mitigate that issue—and it just raised a ton of money.

Technically, Dutchie is a jack-of-all-trades service that creates and hosts websites for dispensaries, tracks product, processes orders, keeps stock of revenue, and so much more. While it was valued at around $200 million as recently as summer of 2020, a round of series C funding currently puts the company at around $1.7 billion—approximately 8 times its worth a mere 8 months ago.

There are a few reasons behind Dutchie’s newfound momentum. For starters, the pandemic made cannabis products a lot more accessible—and desirable—in states in which the sale of cannabis is legal. The ensuing surge of customers and demand certainly didn’t hurt the platform, especially given that Dutchie is largely responsible for keeping things on track during some of the more chaotic months for dispensaries.

Several states in which the sale of cannabis was illegal also voted to legalize recreational use, giving Dutchie even more stomping ground than they had prior to the lockdown.

Dutchie also recently took on 2 separate companies and their associated employees, effectively doubling their current staff. The companies are Greenbits—a resource planning group—and Leaflogix, which is a point-of-sale platform. With these two additions to their compendium, Dutchie can operate as even more of an all-in-one suite, which absolutely contributes to its value as a company.

Ross Lipson, who is Dutchie’s co-founder and current CEO, is fairly dismissive of investment opportunities for the public at the moment, saying he instead prefers to stay “focused with what’s on our plate” for the time being. However, he also appears open to the possibility of going public via an acquisition company.

“We look at how this decision brings value to the dispensary and the customer,” says Lipson. “If it brings value, we’d embark on that decision.”

For now, Dutchie remains the ipso facto king of cannabis distribution and sales—and they don’t show any plans to slow down any time soon.

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Business News

Ford adopts flexible working from home schedule for over 30k employees

(BUSINESS NEWS) Ford Motor Co. is allowing employees to continue working from home even after the pandemic winds down. Is this the beginning of a trend for auto companies?

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Woman in car working on engineering now allowed a flexible schedule for working from home.

The pandemic has greatly transformed our lives. For the most part, learning is being conducted online. At one point, interacting with others was pretty much non-existent. Working in the office shifted significantly to working remotely, and it seems like working from home might not go away anytime soon.

As things slowly get back to a new “normal”, will things change again? Well, one thing is sure. Working from home will be a permanent thing for some people as more companies opt to continue letting people work remotely.

And, the most recent company on the list to do this is Ford Motor Co. Even after the pandemic winds down, Ford will allow more than 30,000 employees already working from home to continue doing so.

Last week, the automaker giant announced its “flexible hybrid model” schedule to its staff. The new schedule is set to start in the summer, and employees can choose to work remotely and come into the office for tasks that require face-to-face collaborations, such as meetings and group projects.

How much time an employee spends in the office will depend on their responsibilities, and flexible remote hours will need to be approved by an employee’s manager.

“The nature of work drives whether or not you can adopt this model. There are certain jobs that are place-dependent — you need to be in the physical space to do the job,” David Dubensky, chairman and chief executive of Ford Land, told the Washington Post. “Having the flexibility to choose how you work is pretty powerful. … It’s up to the employee to have dialogue and discussion with their people leader to determine what works best.”

Ford’s decision to implement a remote-office work model has to do in part with an employee survey conducted in June 2020. Results from the survey showed that 95% of employees wanted a hybrid schedule. Some employees even reported feeling more productive when working from home.

Ford is the first auto company to allow employees to work from home indefinitely, but it might not be the only one. According to the Post, Toyota and General Motors are looking at flexible options of their own.

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Business News

Unify your remote team with these important conversations

(BUSINESS NEWS) More than a happy hour, consider having these poignant conversations to bring your remote team together like never before.

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Woman working in office with remote team

Cultivating a team dynamic is difficult enough without everyone’s Zoom feed freezing halfway through “happy” hour. You may not be able to bond over margaritas these days, but there are a few conversations you can have to make your team feel more supported—and more comfortable with communicating.

According to Forbes, the first conversation to have pertains to individual productivity. Ask your employees, quite simply, what their productivity indicators are. Since you can’t rely on popping into the office to see who is working on a project and who is beating their Snake score, knowing how your employees quantify productivity is the next-best thing. This may lead to a conversation about what you want to see in return, which is always helpful for your employees to know.

Another thing to discuss with your employees regards communication. Determining which avenues of communication are appropriate, which ones should be reserved for emergencies, and which ones are completely off the table is key. For example, you might find that most employees are comfortable texting each other while you prefer Slack or email updates. Setting that boundary ahead of time and making it “office” policy will help prevent strain down the road.

Finally, checking in with your employees about their expectations is also important. If you can discuss the sticky issue of who deals with what, whose job responsibilities overlap, and what each person is predominantly responsible for, you’ll negate a lot of stress later. Knowing exactly which of your employees specialize in specific areas is good for you, and it’s good for the team as a whole.

With these 3 discussions out of the way, you can turn your focus to more nebulous concepts, the first of which pertains to hiring. Loop your employees in and ask them how they would hire new talent during this time; what aspects would they look for, and how would they discern between candidates without being able to meet in-person? It may seem like a trivial conversation, but having it will serve to unify further your team—so it’s worth your time.

The last crucial conversation, per Forbes, is simple: Ask your employees what they would prioritize if they became CEOs tomorrow. There’s a lot of latitude for goofy responses here, but you’ll hear some really valuable—and potentially gut-wrenching—feedback you wouldn’t usually receive. It never hurts to know what your staff prioritize as idealists.

Unifying your staff can be difficult, but if you start with these conversations, you’ll be well on your way to a strong team during these trying times.

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