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Why Wal-Mart Won't Fire Striking Workers -- and What That Means for You


Plus: A few essential things every non-union striker should know before walking out on the job.

You can wear clothing to protest working conditions as long as the clothing isn't disruptive. For instance, if your coworkers and you decide to wear orange shirts to indicate you feel like you're in prison, or even shirts that say, "Inmate," you can't be fired for that. Shirts, buttons and other clothing with foul or offensive language or that are dangerous (such as something that could get caught in a machine) may be prohibited.

You can complain to coworkers about your grievances: You are allowed to discuss wages, benefits, and other working conditions with coworkers. Many companies try to prohibit discussion of wages, even putting the prohibition in the handbook or in a contract. NLRB will likely sanction any employer found to do this.

Complaining on social media, though, is permitted but it's tricky: You can post on Facebook that you think your boss is being unfair (or even call him a "scumbag"), as long as you have coworkers that are Facebook friends and your post invites discussion over working conditions. You can't just mock the company unrelated to working conditions and get away with it, so be careful what you post.

Be careful about what you say to HR: You can go to your boss or HR complaining about working conditions as long as you are complaining about conditions that others are encountering as well as you. If you complain about your personal situation, make sure you complain about illegal discrimination (race, age, sex, disability, etc.), workplace safety, unpaid overtime or something else that puts you in a category where you're legally protected from retaliation. Otherwise, they can fire you for complaining that your boss is a jerk, unprofessional, or even unethical.

Filing a formal complaint to the government will protect you: If you and at least one other coworker file an OSHA complaint about unsafe conditions, contact the Department of Labor about unpaid overtime, or seek help from the EEOC on a discrimination issue, your actions are protected under the National Labor Relations Act as concerted activity. If you do it alone, each government agency has its own whistleblower laws that might protect you from retaliation.

More: Wal-Mart Strike: Too Many Disgruntled Workers to Ignore

What Crosses The Legal Line
You must be careful not to cross the line into protesting in a way that is illegal or not legally protected. If you're going to protest, you can't:

Sit-down strike: While you can engage in a work stoppage, sit-down strikes can be tricky. If you strike in a way that doesn't interfere with operations, that's probably legal. You can't just seize your office and refuse to leave. Once the employer tells you to leave, you have to take it outside or you could be guilty of trespassing.

Work slowdown: Unlike a work stoppage, a slowdown isn't protected. If you go to work, you have to work. Once you accept work from the employer, you have to do it at normal speed.
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