Elon Musk’s X illegally fired an employee in retaliation for her internet posts challenging its return-to-office policy, the U.S. labor board alleged on Friday in its first-ever formal complaint against the company. The NLRB’s San Francisco office found that X violated federal law when it fired engineer Yao Yue, who criticized management for ordering employees back to work after the Thanksgiving holiday and tweeted to fellow workers, “Don’t resign, let him fire you.”
In her tweet and a message on a Slack channel, she wrote that if employees could not make it to the office, they should tell the boss they would not be coming back so he could decide what to do with them. Yue was fired a few days later, according to the complaint. Yue’s lawyer argued her firing violated federal labor laws, which protect employees’ right to discuss and draft letters addressing working conditions at their companies.
X didn’t respond to a request for comment, and a spokeswoman for Twitter did not immediately return a phone call from Reuters. The NLRB complaint alleges that several other employees who also tweeted or drafted similar letters and emails were fired. The company faces multiple lawsuits over its handling of layoffs, including claims that it targeted women and people with disabilities. In 2019, it lost an appeals court challenge to a ruling that it illegally fired workers for union activism.
The NLRB complaint filed by its regional director accused X — formerly known as Twitter — of violating the federal law prohibiting punishing employees for communicating and organizing with others about their working conditions. The board has the power to order policy changes and reinstate fired workers, but it can only do so if it finds violations of federal labor laws.
Elon Musk has repeatedly found himself at the center of legal controversies, especially around free speech and workers’ rights. Last year, his electric car maker, Tesla, settled with a former worker whom NLRB prosecutors concluded the company illegally punished for writing a letter asking it to strengthen its zero-tolerance policies following sexual harassment allegations against Musk. In another case involving SpaceX, the NLRB ruled that the company had violated the law by telling workers to refrain from discussing their pay.
Agency judges will now consider the NLRB’s complaint against X. It could lead to a hearing with the board’s general counsel, who can seek remedies, including reinstatement of the fired employee. The NLRB is expected to issue a final determination on the matter within 60 days. The complaint against X comes less than two months after a judge ruled that Tesla had illegally dismissed a worker who drafted a letter asking the company to reconsider its controversial return-to-office policy, leading to mass layoffs this year. The decision on the X complaint is due in mid-February. A federal appeals court is considering a separate lawsuit against the company for using the letter “X” in its branding.