In a decision overruling a past ruling, the NLRB held last week that employers could not prohibit employees from using their work email to communicate with others regarding union organization during non-work periods. The majority held that the workplace is “uniquely appropriate” and “the natural gathering place for such communications,” and also noted that “the use of email as a common form of workplace communication has expanded dramatically in recent years.” The Board was cautious, however, and stated that this ruling would only apply to those workers who were granted access to the employer’s email system in the course of their work, and that an employer may justify a total ban on non-work use of email if it was necessary for purposes of production or discipline.
The case was brought by the union, Communications Workers of America, which unsuccessfully attempted to unionize workers at Purple Communications, Inc., a California-based company, and alleged that the company’s email restrictions violated the National Labor Relations Act. In rendering its decision, the Board balanced employers’ property rights with workers’ freedom to communicate and organize. The full decision could be read here.