In December 2014, the National Labor Relations Board issued a decision in the matters of Purple Communications, Inc. and Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO, 361 NLRB 126 (2014). The case involved attempts by the Communications Workers of America to unionize at Purple Communications Inc., a company that provides sign-language interpretation services.
The employer had maintained an employee handbook that provided, in relevant part:
Employees are strictly prohibited from using the computer, internet, voicemail and email systems, and other Company equipment in connection with any of the following activities:
. . . .
2. Engaging in activities on behalf of organizations or persons with no professional or business affiliation with the Company.
. . . .
5. Sending uninvited email of a personal nature.
Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act gives workers rights which include employees effectively communicating with each other concerning workplace self-organization. The Board’s decision held, among other things, that employees have Section 7 rights to communicate with each other about matters that impact on the terms and conditions of employment – and that includes communications in the workplace or utilizing workplace technology.
Employers that have computer usage policies should take care that those policies do not unfairly and illegally restrict employees’ rights to communicate with each other concerning workplace matters – even if the communications are made outside of work-time – when they involve the terms and conditions of their employment at the company.
The Board held, further, that e-mail is not the same as other workplace equipment that employees may utilize or access, and therefore rules established by the employer regarding e-mail usage must take care not to trample on employees’ Section 7 rights.
Companies and employers should speak with an attorney who practices labor and employment law to obtain guidance concerning employee handbook and computer usage policies.
Michael L. Fox is a Partner and Managing attorney on our Litigation Team. He can be reached by calling 866-303-9595 toll free or 845-764-9656 and by email.