The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is keeping its knives sharp as it continues its rampage through employers’ policies, cutting up anything it feels may stymie the organizing process.
Its latest move, made after much hemming and hawing, took away employers’ ability to create work-only email policies.
The board said policies that prohibit employees from using company-provided email accounts for personal matters infringe on workers rights under the National Labor Relations Act to take part in protected concerted activities — specifically discussing working conditions with co-workers.
The NLRB issued this ruling after a labor organization brought charges against Purple Communications, Inc., a company offering deaf and hard-of-hearing text and video services. The charges claim the company’s policy prohibiting personal use of electronic equipment and systems unlawfully restricts employees’ rights to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment.
An administrative law judge had dismissed the claim previously, basing his decision on the NLRB’s 2007 ruling in a case involving Register Guard, a newspaper publisher.
The ruling said Register Guard’s policy, which was similar to one held by Purple Communications, and prohibited employees from using its email system for non-work-related purposes, was legal.
Unhappy with the administrative law judge’s decision, the defeated labor organization took its case to the NLRB and requested that the board overturn the decision the Bush-era board made in the Register Guard case.
Now, policies restricting employees’ non-work-related use of email policies have been deemed illegal.
In the NLRB’s new ruling, it said email is the new water cooler, a “natural gathering place” in which workers who share common interests may come together to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment — and possibly engage in union organizing efforts.
The news isn’t all bad for employers, however, as they were allowed to maintain some important controls over their email systems.
Here are the specifics of the NLRB’s new ruling:
- Employees have the right to use their employers’ email systems to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment.
- Employers can prohibit the use of company-provided email systems for the discussion of non-work-related topics on work time. In other words, while employees have the right to discuss work conditions, employers have the right to limit such discussion to non-work time.
- The NLRB was a bit vague in this area, but it did say employers have the right to enforce controls over their email systems to maintain production and discipline.
- Employers are not required to provide email addresses to employees whose jobs do not require the use of email and wouldn’t have been given an email account had this ruling not been issued.