The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) does more than regulate relations between employer and unions. It also gives non-union employees the right to organize. That makes the NLRA applicable to all businesses, even the smallest ones and even in strong right-to-work states like Florida. And now, the NLRB, the quasi-judicial Board which hears labor disputes, has opined on the use of company email by employees. Its decision should spur employers everywhere to review their email policies.
The NLRB first restated that the right to organize means employees must be allowed to freely speak among themselves about what is going on at work. Both the Board and the U.S. Supreme Court have also said this was not limited to gathering at the watering hole down the street; employees may chat at work about issues important to them, albeit not during work hours.
Enter email, and two different views of the technology. On one hand, an email system could be seen as the employer’s property, like the phones. If employers want to limit how the phones they pay for are used, they may do so, and so should they be able to control how their email is used.
The NLRB disagreed. It called email the new “natural gathering place” of the information age and held that employees must be allowed to use company email to speak among themselves about anything remotely related to the workplace. Simply put, it transformed email from a communication tool to a forum where employees may gather at will and discuss topics that matter to them.
Thus employers are now being made by the NLRB to justify any restriction on the use of company email by their employees during nonworking time. Businesses across Northeast Florida should take this seriously. Any unjustified restriction can now lead to a complaint with the NLRB and potential sanctions. A good attorney ought to review existing email policies before the Board comes knocking.