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National Labor Relations Board Essay

After a long wait, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that company owners may legally restrict usage of their e-mail systems for employees’ extra-curricular activities.  These activities include union-related solicitations and organizations. The employers can restrict the usage of such communication device for as long as it does not discriminate against the protected activities under the National Labor Relations Act because the law recognizes that such service is the property of the employer.

The National Labor Relations Act actually permits employees to discuss union-related matters in the workplace during their free time and to distribute union-related materials on non-working time, in non-working locations. However, per statutory laws, employers have no obligation to assist them in performing such acts through the use of company-owned facilities such as email. Rather, employers have the right to regulate the use of their equipments such as fax machines, telephones, photocopiers, printers and of course, e-mails.

The NLRB announced a new standard for assessing allegations of prejudicial enforcement of employer policies under Section 8(a)(1) of The National Labor Relations Act. This new regulation has an “all or nothing” approach. For instance, a company’s policy to restrict the use of communications is not valid unless it applies to

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restrict all personal and non-work related communications. If it was proven that the employer permitted the use of email for non-work related end, but not those related to unions, the employer is still in violation of Section 8(a)(1) of The National Labor Relations Act.

The NLRB stressed that the core of illegal discrimination is “unequal treatment of equals.”  Hence, according to NLRB, “unlawful discrimination consists of disparate treatment of activities or communications of a similar character because of their union or other Section 7-protected status.” This standard mandates that employer policies may now distinguish between communications that are not of the same character:

  • Organizational and Personal invitations
  • Solicitations for charitable and non-charitable use
  • Personal and commercial solicitations
  • Solicitations and mere talk
  • Business-related use and non-business related use

An employer, for instance, may lawfully maintain a rule that allows solicitations for Salvation Army, but that prohibits solicitations for non-charitable organizations such as a March Madness bracket or lottery pool.  An employer, however, may not discriminate against union-related solicitations or communications in a manner applicable to such rules.

Email is one of the easiest ways individuals interact with one another. It has revolutionized the communication all around the world. Given how interrelated work and personal matters are, an individual will have a lot of difficulty segregating his personal messages from the work-related ones.

This standard by the NLRB clearly provides that an employer must be very particular regarding its policies on email communications. The standard has been clear enough as to assist employers in drafting their policies; however, the biggest issue the author of this paper sees in this standard is its implementation. The board clearly stated that employers have the right to regulate the email system of the company. Various ethical concerns are raised by this statement, most especially on privacy.

It will be very hard for companies to discern what are work and non-work related messages if not reading the messages one by one. Employees may raise serious issues on this especially that some messages they send out can easily get very personal. This law easily exposes employees’ personal lives to the employers. It will also not look good on working relations if the employee is aware that his employer is breathing down his neck, i.e. the employer has every right to read emails and one wrong message can get the employee fired.

References:

Damon, M. (2008). Employers right to limit employees e-mail use upheld. The Corporate Counselor, n.p.

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