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Employee Use of E-Mail to Discuss Union Matters

Employers are advised to consult applicable state and federal laws that may address policies barring employee use of company e-mail for non-business matters.

May 18, 2007
Related Topics: Labor Relations
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Under the National Labor Relations Act, the National Labor Relations Board is now considering whether employees may have the right to communicate with one another through their employer’s e-mail system about union matters and terms and conditions of employment.

    The Register-Guard, an Oregon daily newspaper, had a policy that restricted its employees from using its communication devices to solicit anything non-job-related. When one of the newspaper’s employees sent a union-related e-mail on company equipment, she received a written warning for violating the communications policy.

    When she sent two union-related e-mails to her co-workers from a non-company computer, she received another disciplinary notice that her e-mail violated the company’s communications policy. In response to unfair labor practice charges filed by the NLRB, Guard Publishing argued that since the e-mail system was the company’s private property, it could regulate and restrict its use.

    The NLRB general counsel argued that employee interests in corresponding with one another through e-mail in the workplace need to be balanced with the employer’s business interest in regulating the use of its e-mail system. According to the NLRB general counsel, a broad policy prohibiting all non-business e-mail use should be illegal unless a showing of special circumstance is provided. A ruling is expected this year. Guard Publ’g Co., d/b/a The Register-Guard, NLRB No. 36-CA-8743-1, oral argument 3/27/07.

    Impact: Employers are advised to consult applicable state and federal laws that may address policies barring employee use of company e-mail for non-business matters.

Workforce Management, April 23, 2007, p. 8 -- Subscribe Now!

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