With a new Republican majority in the NLRB, the rules may be changing (again) when it comes to company emails. The NLRB is in the process of re-analyzing when and how employers can restrict employees’ company email use without running afoul of NLRA Section 7, and may begin upholding employer policies with facially neutral restrictions on company email and computer usage again in the near future.
A bit of background: Section 7 of the NLRA protects an employee’s right to engage in “concerted activities,” which occurs “when two or more employees take action for their mutual aid or protection regarding terms and conditions of employment.” The NLRA’s protection of “concerted activities” is a broader concept than “union activities” and covers many different activities, including employee discussions about pay, work conditions, and safety concerns. The NLRB has construed the terms “concerted” and “protected” very broadly and vaguely, to include any activity aimed at affecting employee interests.
In a game-changing 3-2 decision on December 11, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) overruled its 2007 Register Guard decision, which upheld the right of employers to limit employee access to company email systems, calling it “clearly incorrect” and holding that employees have a presumptive right to use their employers’ email systems for non-business purposes, like communications about union organizing, wages and working conditions, during “nonworking time.” Register Guard, which has long been criticized by organized labor, held that an employer may completely prohibit employees from using an employer’s email system for Section 7 purposes, even if they are otherwise permitted access to the email system—without demonstrating any business justification—so long as the ban is not applied discriminatorily.
As reported in prior blogs, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has become increasingly active in attacking employer policies on the grounds that those policies chill employees’ rights to engage in concerted activity. In particular, the NLRB has been scrutinizing social media policies. READ MORE