December 17, 2019

NLRB Speaks: What Rights Do Employees Have to Use Corporate Email?

As much as you permit.  On December 17th, the National Labor Relations Board (Board) announced that an employer may restrict employees’ use of its email system if it does so on a nondiscriminatory basis. The Board under the prior Administration ruled that that employees who had been given access to their employer’s email system for work-related purposes had a presumptive right to use that system, on nonworking time, for communications protected by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). (Click here to see the other “News” article for a quick recap of Section 7 rights)

Why the reversal? The current Board ruled that employees do not have a statutory right to use employers’ email and other information-technology (IT) resources to engage in non-work-related communications. Rather, employers have the right to control the use of their equipment, including their email and other IT systems, and they may lawfully exercise that right to restrict the uses to which those systems are put, provided that in doing so, they do not discriminate against union or other protected concerted communications.

Tip #1: Review your electronic communications, email, social media and related employment policies.  Ensure they say what you want.  For example, if a policy reads that those systems are to be used exclusively for business purposes, then you need to enforce a zero-tolerance practice.  That may not be realistic or very employee friendly.

Tip #2: Train your managers on NLRA basics. They cannot prohibit the use of those systems for Section 7 purposes if they permit the use for other, personal reasons.