Who would think a YouTube video entitled “Thanks Safeway” could lead to troubles? It sounds like a positive, grateful and potentially boring video. However in this case it may not be any of
those things, since it led to the posters suspension.
According to an NBCChicago.com story, Steve Yamamoto, a former employee of Dominick’s supermarket, posted his YouTube video the day before his store was due to close forever.
Yamamoto created a sci-fi/fantasy like video depicting aliens and a dragon attacking and destroying the store and its employees. He convinced a number of his co-workers to take part in
the video which claimed that Dominick’s employees thought they were “safe” and that they were “Miley Cyrus wrong” in response to the shocking closure of Dominick’s stores. Safeway, Dominick’s parent company, closed many of its 72 Chicago stores on December 28th.
As a result, Yamamoto and about 6,000 of his fellow employees are now unemployed. In the video, you could see some employees racing to unemployment in motorized shopping carts.
Yamamoto intended the video to “make light of a bad situation,” but it would appear that Safeway, or at least Dominick’s, took it seriously.
Yamamoto posted the video on Friday; the stores were closing on Saturday. His video received so much media attention that when he arrived at work on Saturday, he was informed he was
suspended. There were early reports that Yamamoto’s suspension could affect his severance package. But according to his comment on his YouTube page, he will get both his severance
package and pay for the day he was suspended. Additionally, it appears that none of his co-workers in the video suffered any consequences.
Employers, Employees, and Speech
The First Amendment protects a person’s freedom of speech. However, the Amendment only applies to government actions. That means that private businesses have the right to take actions
the government cannot in reaction to an employees or customers speech. For instance, an employer can take many disciplinary actions, including termination, if an employee says
something that negatively affects the business. This is particularly true if the employer has a policy regarding how employees’ behavior and words should reflect company policies and
support its reputation. However, there are limits to this ability. Employers are generally limited in their ability to act on an employee’s speech when the employee is off the clock and not on
company property. But in this case, even though Yamamoto posted the video during his free time and on his own account, he filmed it on company property and it directly affected the reputation
of the company. His company likely had solid ground for his suspension or other disciplinary actions. However, employers and employees often have different opinions in cases where
disciplinary actions, particularly termination, are involved. If you have questions or feel you have been wrongfully discharged, contact a HKM employment attorney for help.