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Employee Use of Employer Email

Employee Use of Employer Email to Engage in Protected Concerted Activity

The convenience of email has altered the way most people communicate, especially in the work place. Employee use of employer email to discuss working conditions can be very common in the workplace.  But what rights do employees have to use employer equipment to discuss these issues?  The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently considered whether employees can use employer e-mail to engage in communications, that would be considered protected, concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  In the matter of Purple Communications http://www.nlrb.gov/case/21-CA-095151 the NLRB found that employees have the right to utilize employer e-mail to engage in Section 7-protected communications at work.  This ruling reversed a previous ruling in the matter of Register Guard, that held employees had no right to email communications that used employers’ equipment or networks.  The holding in Purple Communications however is not absolute and similar cases will be judged on a case by case basis.  The NLRB found that significant factors in the analysis would include: whether the communication took place during non-work time; whether the employee already has access to employer email; whether the communication was limited to email or did it involve other types of electronic communication.   The NLRB also addressed how surveillance of employee email would be reviewed.  It found that as long as the employer monitors email as it ordinarily would and doesn’t increase the surveillance as a result of protected concerted activity, the surveillance would be acceptable.

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