NLRB: Your employees can use company email to badmouth you and unionize. Four reasons it’s no big deal.


Hey, if you’re a big employment dork like me, (vote Handbook!), you’ve already read a bunch of blog posts, and you’ll read several more about how the sky is falling after yesterday’s NLRB decision, in which the Board held that employees may use company email to discuss the terms and conditions of employment.

Yes, this decision extends to any workplace — not just unionized workplaces — that is covered by the National Labor Relations Act. And, yes, it may help your employees communicate with one another to form a union (gasp!) or otherwise discuss working conditions, but…

Seriously, you gots to chill.

This is no game-changer.

First, this rule only applies to employee communications on non-work time. So, you don’t have to pay employees to talk trash about the company. If your employees don’t have access to work email, this decision does not require you to give it to them.

Second, do you really think your employees strictly adhere to your computer-use policy that says that company electronic equipment should be used for business purposes only?

Third, I find it hard to believe that employees who wish to unionize would prefer to use company email as a way to discuss forming a union, versus other equally (or more) effective means (e.g., social media, personal email, text message, phone, face to face) that are far less susceptible to employer interception.

But, above all, if you run operate a company that communicates with its employees, values them not just in terms of the dollars you pay, but the respect you give, then unionization will be the furthest thing from their minds.

And if discussions over company email are enough to convince your workforce to unionize, then you deserve to have a union.

  • Mike Harrington

    That last line is what you call a cold closing. Preach it brother!

  • Jas Ras

    Eric – I do agree with your last line. However, do you think the concern is more about facilitating union organizers’ access to employees? Rather than having to spend manpower and money to physically reach employees (through regular mail or phone calls), many of who don’t really update their contact information with their employers so frequently, communication can be made with the push of a send button. Yeah, many unions have their bulletin boards, but do employees really take a look at them? Just a question…

    • Yes, access to company email could make union organizing more efficient, especially after enough union cards have been signed to trigger an election. But, sharing information over company email could allow the employer to get the jump on the union before enough cards are signed. Of course, I’m assuming that the employer is not engaging in unlawful surveillance. Rather, lawful monitoring of its own electronic infrastructure.

      (That’s going to be the next big issue for the Board, methinks)

      • Irving Geslewitz

        But that’s exactly why this decision is a big deal. When is the employer monitoring lawful? If an employer (or a supervisor) knows employees are using its proprietary email system as a vehicle to organize, the temptation is great to see what they are saying. That might increase the incidence or depth of monitoring. But that opens the door to a ready made unlawful surevillance objection that could nullify an election result adverse to the union. And if it is true that employees won’t use the Company email system to organize, then why subordinate the employer’s property rights in its own email system in favor something that is not going to be relied on by employees anyway? This is just another partisan decision by a highly activist Board that serves no real purpose other than continuing to stack the deck against employers. The adoption of the quickie election rules on the heels of this decision is part and parcel of that process.

        • Thanks for the comment, Irving. You are right. Taken together, the quicker elections and the ability to use the employer’s email systems to disseminate information pack a harder 1-2 punch for employers, than the Purple Communications ruling alone.