On Thursday December 11, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that employees could use their company email systems not only for communication purposes, but also to discuss matters concerning conditions within the workplace.
Furthermore, workers are allowed to use their email following work hours to organize a union.
This overturns a ruling in 2007 that said workers were forbidden from sending out email messages related to unfavorable in-office situations. Emails were only meant for business purposes.
During President George Bush’s presidency, a labor decision by two Republican members of the NLRB ruled that workers nationwide were not granted statutory rights to email fellow coworkers about unionizing.
The recent case between Purple Communications, Inc. and Communications Workers of America (CWA) determined that the original policy was a little too restricting for some employees who wanted to virtually converse about work conditions.
CWA stated that past limitations set by the board violated a worker’s right as stated in the National Labor Relations Act.
These restrictions also defeated the whole purpose of having an email—especially during modern times when online communication is an important.
Liberals of the board—three Democrats who voted in favour of the ruling and are now the majority of the panel—say that a worker’s main source of communication should always be email-based, without constant censoring and supervision from employers.
"By focusing too much on employers’ property rights and too little on the importance of email as a means of workplace communication, the Board failed to adequately protect employees’ rights under the Act and abdicated its responsibility ’to adapt the Act to the changing patterns of industrial life," the majority shared in a statement.
The NLRB has since retracted some of its most common pro-union concerns including:
- The belief that organizing and unionizing through email would cause computer viruses and other minor glitches.
- The fact that an employer’s First Amendment rights are violated if they’re obligated to allow workers to use Internet servers to spread pro-union messages.
- The idea that Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels could be used in place of company email systems.
The board has argued that social media could be used as an alternative route in discussing workplace matters and employees should be given protection of these rights. Yet, emailing is the number one choice for this particular need.
According to the majority, "if anything, e-mail’s effectiveness as a mechanism for quickly sharing information and views increases its importance to employee communication."
The ruling does have certain limitations and perks, however.
Most of these rights are only granted to workers with email access, and they don’t require employers to grant access to those without an email. Companies are also allowed to bar email usage only when it interferes with workplace production and performance.
Anything else workers discuss that’s not related to pro-union conversations, whether it’s through email or other online channels, could face punishment from employers.
Additionally, the new ruling grants workers the freedom to discuss basic work-related topics like pay and benefits via their work email.
Image Source: Everything Email