NLRB raps Hooters in wake of bikini contest protestNews added by Benefits Pro on May 29, 2014

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By Dan Cook

As a general rule, it’s probably not a good idea for most businesses to sponsor employee bikini contests. Hooters, the restaurant chain, no doubt thought it was an exception to that rule. But it might want to reconsider that thinking in light of a ruling by a National Labor Relations Board judge.

A Hooters franchise located in Ontario, California, found itself the subject of an NLRB inquiry after it fired a waitress who had taken exception to a company bikini contest. The firing led to an examination of the Hooters employee handbook, and that led to more serious sanctions than overturning the decision of the bikini contest jury.

According to several sources, including the Inland Empire newspaper The Press Enterprise, here’s what happened: Hooters Ontario waitress Alexis Hanson objected to the choice of a winner in the 2012 bikini contest, one Pamela Jean Noble. Hanson claimed the gig was rigged because Noble had close friends on the jury who chose her. “Witnesses testified about obscenity-laced tirades that evening,” reported the Press Enterprise.

Whether or not Hanson used profanity became a matter of debate later on, after Hooters fired her. In a posting on its website, the Boston law firm Pyle Rome said: “The company alleged that she was terminated for cursing at the manager alleged to have rigged the competitions. But the [NLRB] judge found that Hanson did not, in fact, swear at the coworker.”

Hanson actually had a list of grievances she aired among coworkers and with management prior to her firing, and apparently she wasn’t the only unhappy Hooters camper. “She and a colleague complained about inappropriate comments that managers made about fellow waitresses during a meeting. She and several other employees also raised their concerns that a certain manager misused her authority to win bikini contests. Hanson further complained that she and others were being forced to participate in an unfair bikini competition without any compensation,” reported Pyle Rome.

When the NLRB started digging into the matter, and more particularly into Hooters’ employee handbook, the result was a black eye for Hooters.

“When employees discussed these work-related situations among themselves, both in person and through social media, they were violating company rules,” said the Press Enterprise. “Those rules were, in turn, declared a violation of federal labor laws” by the NLRB.

“Hooters’ handbook included violations such as a ban on employees discussing wages and tips or any company business with each other or outsiders. The NLRB judge ordered the company to cease mandating almost a dozen employment policies, most of which he called so ‘overly broad’ that almost any comment made by a worker to anyone could be grounds for termination.”

The board ordered Hanson’s job restored with back pay and the value of benefits lost.

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