Do You Monitor Employees’ E-mail Use?

Kegler Brown E-mployment Alert

Many companies have formal policies that prohibit use of the Company e-mail, or computers, for employee personal use. Many other companies have policies that permit “reasonable” personal use by employees. Still other companies have no policy at all.

Did you know that the government might force you to allow your employees to use the company e-mail system for union purposes, and even to organize and bring in a union?

The National Labor Relations Board has been struggling with this issue for some time. One NLRB case arose when a company told union officers that they could not use the company e-mail system to transmit union messages. This company was one that had a policy that limited use of the e-mail system to official company business, but the company never enforced the rule and employees frequently sent personal messages without consequence. The NLRB ruled that selective enforcement to prohibit union-related messages was unlawful. That ruling was appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed with the NLRB:

“[When] company-sponsored channels of communication are opened to non-company purposes, the NLRA [National Labor Relations Act] prohibits an employer from preventing use for union purposes.

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The e-mail system was frequently used by both hourly employees and managers to convey news about the employees’ personal lives, to arrange social events, and to inform employees about charities. … Restriction of the union’s access to this communication channel, while others were allowed unfettered access, is an unfair labor practice that is prohibited by the NLRA.”

[Medina Gen. Operations, Inc. v. NLRB, 181 LRRM 2632 (4th Cir. 2007)]