The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has continued its aggressive posture in matters involving employees’ (ability to communicate with one another in the workplace, including the virtual workplace of the cyber world). In a December 2014 case entitled, Purple Communications, Inc., the NLRB overturned a 2007 decision, in which it had held that an employer could “lawfully bar non-work-related use of its [email] system” even if the employees were using the email system for union organizing or to engage in discussions concerning wages, benefits or other workplace issues. In Purple Communications, the NLRB ruled that employees who already have access to an employer’s email system and use the system in the course of their work, have the right to use the system to communicate about union organizing and/or about workplace and employment conditions generally. These communications are protected under Section 7 of the NLRA, which gives all employees (union and non-union) the right, among other things, to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment or organize a union with their co-workers.
Although recognizing the right of employees to use their employer’s email systems to discuss or complain about matters of mutual concern, the NLRB also recognized that this right had to be balanced against an employer’s legitimate interest in efficiently managing its business. The NLRB noted that:
Although the NLRB states that its ruling in Purple Communications only applies to email systems, its decision leaves no doubt that it would expand its ruling to other forms or electronic communication if the opportunity is presented. Accordingly, non-union and union employers alike should review their policies to ensure that they do not contain prohibitions or restrictions on the use of email and other electronic communication systems that are contrary to NLRB’s ruling in Purple Communications.
If you have any questions about the information presented here, need assistance with reviewing and updating policies, or would like to learn more about how Prince Lobel can address any of your employment law concerns, please contact Claudia Centomini, the author of this Alert at 617 456 8064 or ccentomini@PrinceLobel.com, or click here to contact any of the attorneys in the firm’s Employment Law Practice Group.