Can you email your buddies on company time?

by. Henry Meier

Judging by the number of people who have told me over the years that they have had to get permission to access my blog at their credit union, I know there are many credit unions that have policies prohibiting the use of company electronic equipment and email systems for activities unrelated to the employee’s job.  Assuming you have an appropriate policy on the issue, and you aren’t selectively enforcing it, such policies are fine according to a 2009 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, (Guard Publishing Co. v. National Labor Relations Board, 571 F.3d 53 (2009)).

But has the Internet become such an integral part of communication that policies imposing blanket bans on non-business use of employer equipment are outdated?  Our good friends at the NLRB think so and its head counsel is bringing an Administrative Appeal before the Board in a case called Purple Communications, Inc. (Cases 21-CA-095151; 21-RC-091531 and 21-RC-091584) in which it is going to ask the Board to reverse the DC court’s 2009 ruling.  Given the importance of the issues involved, the NLRB is requesting interested parties to file amicus briefs for or against its appeal.  It’s a very good assumption that win or lose, the issue will once again be examined by the DC federal court.

Why should you care?  Most importantly, even though most of you don’t have union shops, the NLRB is seeking to regulate the ability of all employers to limit the use of office technology.  It is concerned that overly restrictive technology policies inhibit the ability of employees, regardless of whether or not they belong to a union, to take “concerted actions” against problems in the work place.  Second, the case will provide HR professionals much-needed guidance about the use of technology in the workplace.  For example, this case deals specifically with the use of company owned and distributed technology but is likely to provide some indication as to where regulators and the courts are headed related to appropriate limitations for employees who are allowed to bring their own devices to work.

My personal view is that the existing legal precedent makes perfect sense and provides both employees and employers a bright line rule to follow.  Unfortunately, common sense and consistency aren’t top priorities of the current NLRB hierarchy.  Bottom line: this is a case to keep an eye on and even to consider writing an amicus for if you think it may have  an impact on your credit union policies.  By the way, if you don’t yet have a technology policy, you should develop one quickly.

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