Economy

Six Workers Were Fired For Making This Sandwich Meme

An appeals court has sided with a Jimmy John's franchise owner who fired six employees for making signs protesting the company's sick day policy.

The meme explains how the Twin Cities-based Jimmy John's franchise owner did not offer paid sick days, and it implies that employees risk losing their jobs if they call in sick, despite the risk that poses to customers. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled on Monday that the firing was legal and the employees were "so disloyal" when they made the images and protested that they don't deserve normal legal protections workers are supposed to receive. The decision reverses a previous ruling from 2016 that said the rights of the employees were violated.

The franchise is run by a company called MikLin Enterprises, which issued a statement saying: “The attacks on its operation were made to hurt the Company, not simply to enlist the support of the public for a change in workplace policies.”

jimmy johns

"If you and your co-workers are forced to go to work sick because the company you work for won’t give you paid time off, it’s natural to join together to fight back," Erin Johansson, research director at Jobs With Justice, told ATTN:. "Now this court is giving more power over to corporations to continue to retaliate against employees brave enough to stand up to them."

Paula Brantner, senior advisor to the organization Workplace Fairness, told ATTN: she agrees. "I think [the court's decision] will certainly restrain some of the more creative forms of organizing action and make people a lot more hesitant to challenge the actions of the company that will grab the public's attention," she said.

This battle between workers and an employer highlights a larger issue: A lack of adequate sick leave policies nationwide is causing workers to be less healthy. A study put out by Wakefield Research last year found 62 percent of Americans have gone to work sick, often because they can't afford to miss a day of work. According to the Economic Policy Institute, only 27 percent of low-wage workers can get paid sick leave. 

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Things get worse when you look at the food industry specifically. A survey released by Alchemy Systems, which looks at safety in the workplace, in 2015 found roughly half of food workers say they "always" or "frequently" go to work when they're sick, potentially exposing customers to illness. 

Brantner said food service employees going to work sick is a major problem across the country. "You have workers that can't afford to take time off and can't afford to be fired if they don't show up, so they come to work sick, and obviously it has implications for transmitting disease through food service and amongst fellow workers," she said. "What happens if everybody gets sick once a person infects everybody on the shift?"

Brantner said it's good business for companies to provide paid sick leave, because it keeps employees and customers healthy, which is the most important thing in the long run.