Labor board hands Whole Foods workers a victory

Last Updated Dec 29, 2015 1:48 PM EST

Whole Foods Market (WFM) can no longer forbid its employees from taking photographs or recording conversations at work, according to a recent federal ruling.

"Smartphone pics and videos in this day and age are particularly 'essential' to proving an employee's rights have been violated," said the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a decision issued late last week.

For years, the Whole Foods handbook for its workers banned taking photos or recording conversations in the workplace without "a supervisor's permission." The company argued that it wanted to "eliminate a chilling effect on the expression of views that may exist when one person is concerned that his or her conversation with another is being secretly recorded."

The NLRB noted in its decision that the blanket ban could prevent workers from documenting unsafe working conditions, or recording statements that show discrimination.

The 2-1 ruling is a victory for employees of the upscale grocery chain, who have been trying to unionize since 2014 amid ongoing cost cuts and layoffs.

"We respectfully disagree with the NLRB on this ruling," said a company spokesperson in an email. "Given the split decision of the board and the dissenting opinion of one of the members we are considering whether or not to appeal."

The company, which in September announced it would cut about 1,500 jobs, or 1.6 percent of its workforce, last month reported a quarterly decline in earnings.

The complaint against Whole Foods was brought by the NLRB's general counsel on behalf of the United Food and Commercial Workers union and a workers' rights center called the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago.

NLRB Decision

On Monday, Whole Foods said it would pay New York City $500,000 to settle allegations it routinely overcharged customers by overstating the weight of prepackaged meat, dairy and baked goods.