Late last year, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued an important ruling regarding restrictions on the use of company email accounts by employees for non-work purposes. This ruling reverses a 2014 NLRB decision, which held that employment policies restricting the use of company email for union organizing purposes presumptively violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). It largely reinstates another NLRB ruling, this one from 2007, which allowed a ban on company email use. While the 2019 decision is a setback for employees’ workplace rights, it is not a complete return to the situation in 2007. The NLRB left some exceptions that would allow use of company email for union organizing purposes when employees have no other “reasonable means…to communicate with one another.” If you have questions concerning use of company email, contact a New Jersey employment attorney to learn more about how federal law may affect you.
The NLRA protects workers’ labor organizing rights and regulates the relationship between labor unions and employers. Section 7 of the statute, codified at 29 U.S.C. § 157, states that employees have the right to organize, to form or join labor unions, to engage in other “concerted activities” related to organizing, and to refrain from any of those activities. Section 8(a), found at 29 U.S.C. § 158(a), prohibits employers from interfering with those rights, restraining employees’ ability to exercise their rights, or discriminating against an employee for engaging in protected activities.
The 2007 NLRB decision held that “employees have no statutory right to use [an employer’s] e-mail system for Section 7 purposes.” The employer maintained a policy that “prohibit[ed] the use of e-mail for all ‘non-job-related solicitations.’” The Board held that employers’ property rights in their email systems allowed them to restrict non-work-related uses, including activities otherwise protected by the NLRA.