Employers can’t stop workers from talking about pay, but they can limit communications on company-owned computers and other information technology.
According to a new ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an employer has the right to restrict employees from using its email system if it does so on a nondiscriminatory basis. As a result, among other things, companies can prohibit worker emails designed to encourage or promote unionization.
In a press release released late last year, NLRB stated:
“…Employees do not have a statutory right to use employers’ email and other information-technology (IT) resources to engage in non-work-related communications. Rather, employers have the right to control the use of their equipment, including their email and other IT systems, and they may lawfully exercise that right to restrict the uses to which those systems are put, provided that in doing so, they do not discriminate against union or other protected concerted communications. To this extent, the Board effectively reinstated the holding of Register Guard, 351 NLRB 1110 (2007). Recognizing that employees must have adequate avenues to engage in communications protected by Section 7 of the NLRA, the Board’s decision creates an exception for circumstances where the use of employer-provided email is the only reasonable means for employees to communicate with one another on non-working time during the workday.”
This reverses a 2014 decision. At that time, the NLRB determined that workers with access to their employer’s email system for their work responsibilities had a right to email communications during non-work time for various communications, including those related to union issues. However, this new decision includes an exception when the employer’s email system is the only reasonable way for employees to communicate during non-work time during the workday.
The NLRA protects workers engaged in “concerted activity,” including talking with coworkers about pay or unsafe working conditions. In recent years, some employers have gotten into trouble with the NLRB for trying to prohibit employee conversations about pay. However, yelling at workers to get back to work when they are having such discussions was not found to violate NLRB rules.