The Newspaper Guild-CWA hails a National Labor Relations Board decision today that makes clear the right of workers to use their work email accounts during non-work hours to discuss workplace issues.
The case involves Guild-represented American Sign Language interpreters at Purple Communications. The decision overturns a previous email case that also involved Guild members, those at The Register Guard in Eugene, Ore.
“With this decision, the NLRB has taken a major step forward to make sure workers’ rights to organize are protected in the 21st century workplace,” Guild President Bernie Lunzer said.
The Board ruled that employees are presumptively entitled to use their work email outside of work to talk to each other about workplace issues, unless an employer can show special circumstances to justify restrictions on that use. “We believe the board has set a high bar for the company to prohibit email usage,” Lunzer said.
Specifically, the Board held that “employee use of email for statutorily protected communications on nonworking time must presumptively be permitted by employers who have chosen to give employees access to their email systems.”
In its decision, the NLRB recognized that email has become a critical means of communication about work-related and other issues. Email has become a "natural gathering place" for many workers, much in the same way the worksite cafeteria is or once was. The NLRB has taken seriously the need to "adapt the (National Labor Relations) Act to the changing patterns of industrial life," especially in light of the pervasiveness of email and the growing use of telework.
Today’s decision overturns the earlier Register Guard case, which denied workers access to the company email system specifically for union or collective purposes. Lunzer said that case effectively “undervalued” employees’ legal right to communicate with each other at the workplace and the need to properly balance employer interests with workers’ rights in changing workplaces.
The Board has remanded the specific unfair labor practice question at Purple Communications to an administrative law judge to hear any evidence from the employer that rebuts the presumption that employees had a right to use email for organizing activity.