Banning of ‘Company use only Email’ policies: NLRB Ruling

On December 11, 2014, the NLRB in the case of Purple Communications., Inc., 361 NLRB No. 126 ruled that employees have the right to use their employer’s email system to engage in legally protected communications, including discussing wages and even organizing a union.

This decision by NLRB overturned a 2007 NLRB ruling (Register Guard policy) that the NLRA allowed employers to forbid using company based email and other sort of communications for Union organizing as long as they were not permitted to use email for other non business related purposes.  

In the case of Purple Communications., Inc., the company was the employer’s electronic communications policy providing that the email shall be used for business purposes only. The policy also specifically prohibited employees to engage in activities on behalf of the organization or persons with no professional or business affiliation with the company and from sending uninvited email of a personal nature.

The Board decided on two major grounds:

  1.  Firstly, it found that decision gave too much freedom and weight to the employer’s interests and not to the employees, core Section 7 right to communicate in the workplace about their terms and conditions of employment.”
  2. Second, the Board’s majority argued that Register Guard policy inappropriately analogized corporate e-mail to the Board’s precedent addressing other types of employer-owned equipment, such as bulletin boards, copiers, and telephones.  In the Board’s view, e-mail is distinguishable from these other categories of employer-owned equipment because its “flexibility and capacity” make its non-work use less costly and disruptive than non-work use of other employer property.

A majority of NLRB members agreed, ruling that employees who have rightful access to the employer’s e-mail system during work have a presumptive right to talk by using email about the terms of employment  including the right to use email for union organizing purposes.

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