In-N-Out’s use of buttons on employee uniforms to wish customers Merry Christmas was one of a few reasons a judge ruled that In-N-Out can’t stop employees from wearing buttons for a different reason — promoting Fight for $15.
The 309-unit chain requires workers to wear “Merry Christmas” buttons during the holidays, and another in April that solicits donations to the company’s foundation. Both of those buttons are “two to three times larger” than the Fight for $15 button.
Administrative Law Judge Keltner Locke for the National Labor Relations Board ordered the company to stop enforcing a rule preventing workers from wearing buttons or insignia that relate to wages, hours, employment conditions or labor issues.
In-N-Out did not respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.
Federal rules prohibit employers from preventing workers from wearing buttons with messages promoting union or similar labor activities, except in special circumstances.
In-N-Out argued that it is a special case because workers are subject to strict grooming requirements and workers wear a specific, white uniform with few elements and no additions.
Locke, however, didn’t buy the argument, in part because of the Christmas and fundraising buttons. “When an employer allows employees to wear other buttons, it casts some doubt on any claim that special circumstances require the employee’s clothing to be button free,” the judge wrote.
The judge in the case also said that In-N-Out couldn’t qualify for an exception, like one given to a hotel in San Diego, because at the hotel the workers were more like “actors” playing a role to create a make-believe environment.
That’s not the case at In-N-Out. Workers there are not actors, the judge found. “It is not making itself a stage upon which to conjure an alternate reality,” Locke wrote. “It is not casting its employees for parts in a ‘Wonderland’ or even a ‘Fantasy Island.’ It has not posted any employee out front to ring a bell and announce, ‘The plane! The plane!’”
In other words, the judge wrote, In-N-Out is not to become something other than what it is: A “fast food burger restaurant.”