Great ResignationDiversity and InclusionCompensationCEO DailyCFO DailyModern Board

Tesla’s ban on employees wearing pro-union shirts was illegal, labor board rules

August 29, 2022, 7:52 PM UTC
Tesla factory.
Mason Trinca for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Tesla violated labor law by restricting employees from wearing pro-union shirts, the National Labor Relations Board ruled, overturning a Trump-era precedent that took a narrower view. 

“Wearing union insignia, whether a button or a t-shirt, is a critical form of protected communication,” NLRB Chairman Lauren McFerran said in a statement Monday after the 3-2 ruling by the agency’s Democratic majority. “For many decades, employees have used insignia to advocate for their workplace interests — from supporting organizing campaigns, to protesting unfair conditions in the workplace — and the law has always protected them.”

The electric carmaker required production workers to wear black shirts with the Tesla logo, or occasionally all-black shirts when a supervisor gave permission, according to the ruling. The majority said the policy interferes with workers’ rights under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. 

The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling. Tesla had argued that its dress code was meant to prevent clothing from mutilating cars, and that employees were free to display other sorts of union insignia on the job. 

But during a 2018 hearing in the case, former Tesla employees testified that managers told them to remove t-shirts supporting the United Auto Workers union, even though their co-workers wore shirts supporting sports teams without incident.

Monday’s ruling orders Tesla to change its dress code to allow employees to wear black union shirts. NLRB rulings can be appealed into federal court, as Tesla has already done with a 2021 ruling telling the automaker to offer reinstatement to a fired activist.

In their dissent, the board’s Republican members accused the majority of “distorting decades of precedent,” and said the ruling “effectively declares illegitimate any employer uniform policy or dress code that prohibits employees from substituting union apparel for required clothing.”

Sign up for the Fortune Features email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews, and investigations.