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NLRB Reversal: Employees Can Use Work Email for Union Activity

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By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on December 15, 2014 12:35 PM

The National Labor Relations Board ruled last week that employees should be permitted to use work email for union organizing activities.

The ruling represents a reversal of a 2007 NLRB decision allowing employers to prohibit such communications through company email, reports Reuters. The case involved employees of Purple Communications, a sign language interpreting service based in California. A workers' union had challenged a company policy prohibiting employees from using work email to "engage in activities on behalf of organizations."

What led to the NLRB's reversal on employees' rights to organize over company email?

Previous Policy 'Clearly Incorrect'

In its ruling on the case, the NLRB admitted that its previous policy regarding union organizing over work email was "clearly incorrect" and that "the consequences of that error are too serious to permit it to stand."

In 2007's Register Guard case, the NLRB had ruled that a workplace email policy prohibiting "nonjob-related solicitations" did not violate the National Labor Relations Act, the federal law that governs collective bargaining and union organization. But in last week's ruling, the NLRB found that the ruling in Register Guard focused "too much on employers' property rights and too little on the importance of email as a means of workplace communication," violating employee rights under the NLRA.

Limitations to New Email Policy

Although the NLRB's new decision means that employees must generally be permitted to use email to self-organize, there are several limitations to that general rule set out in the ruling. First, the right to use an employer's email system for organizing activities applies only to employees who already have access to the company email system; employers are not required to provide email access to employees for the purpose of organizing.

Second, employers can still implement a total ban on all non-work email activity by demonstrating "that special circumstances make the ban necessary to maintain production or discipline."

So does your work email policy conform to the NLRB's ruling? If in doubt, you may want to consult an experienced employment lawyer near you.

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