Former Trader Joe’s Employee Says He Was Fired for Not Smiling

Ex-Trader Joe’s employee Thomas Nagle recently filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the health and gourmet food chain headquartered in California with more than 400 stores nationwide.

In addition to complaining of workplace hazards and harassment by managers, Nagle, who recorded several of his performance reviews, claims that he was fired because his attitude was too negative and his smile and demeanor when dealing with customers was not sufficiently genuine. The morale issues appear to be concentrated at some of the company’s busiest stores, including the Manhattan store where Nagle worked.

Nagle’s filing challenges several of the policies in Trader Joe’s crew handbook and bulletins that require employees to maintain a positive attitude. Such policies may be illegal because the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives employees the right to discuss working conditions, including the right to complain about conditions to the public. Any company policy that discourages these activities most likely violates federal labor law. Indeed, earlier this year the labor relations board struck down a similar policy in T-Mobile’s employee handbook that said: “Employees are expected to maintain a positive work environment by communicating in a manner that is conducive to effective working relationships.” Before filing the charge against Trader Joe’s, Nagle and other aggrieved employees reached out to union organizers. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is providing Mr. Nagle’s legal representation in this matter.