On Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board re-opened the question of whether workers have a right to use their employers’ communications systems (including email) for union organizing and other protected activities.
In 2007, the NLRB handed down its decision in Register-Guard, holding that employees don’t have the right to use employer email systems for non-business purposes (such as union organizing). Since then, many employers have implemented policies requiring that email only be used for business purposes.
The question arose again in 2013 when Purple Communications was accused of committing an unfair labor practice for prohibiting the use of company equipment for non-business purposes. The Administrative Law Judge relied on Register-Guard and dismissed the charge; however, both the NLRB’s General Counsel and the Communications Workers of America filed exceptions, encouraging the NLRB to overrule Register-Guard and find that employees who use email for business purposes have the right to use it for union or organizing activity. In response, the NLRB has invited the public to weigh in (by way of amicus briefs) on whether the Board should overrule Register-Guard .
Employer groups will no doubt come out strongly in favor of upholding Register-Guard , but with the current composition of the NLRB, the employer-friendly holding of Register-Guard might be short-lived.