Labor board decision allows companies more control over email systems


A hot potato: Google may be one step closer to justifying its firing of employee activists who have accused it of terminating them in retaliation for attempting to unionize. The Labor Board has made a ruling that will allow employers more control over company property including IT equipment and email systems.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that companies can block their employees from using corporate email for organizing protests. The decision comes as Google faces accusations of the wrongful termination of several employee activists.

“Employees do not have a statutory right to use employers’ email and other information-technology (IT) resources to engage in non-work-related communications,” the NLRB said on Tuesday, after a 3-1 vote cemented the decision. “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 provided that in doing so, they do not discriminate against union or other protected concerted communications.”

“Employees do not have a statutory right to use employers’ email to engage in non-work-related communications.”

The decision marked the settlement of a dispute between Caesars Entertainment and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades involving the right for workers to use their work emails for organizing. A board decision from 2014 involving Purple Communication allowed such use under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRB was asked to consider reverting to a 2007 precedent where employers had more control over their property.

The board opened the case up to hear public briefings in August 2018. Bloomberg noted Google’s legal counsel wrote that the 2014 ruling “should be overruled.”

“We’re not lobbying for changes to any rules,” said a Google spokesperson. Instead, the urging was part of a broader legal defense against what it maintains are “meritless claims” leveled at the company.

The decision does not mean that the search giant is out of hot water in the wrongful termination allegations against it. The NLRB has yet to hear its case. However, the ruling does give Google more legal leverage when fighting against the accusations that it is firing employees in retaliation for actions that are protected under Section 7 of the NLRA.

Lauren McFerran, the only board member to cast a dissenting vote, said, “[The ruling] aims to turn back the clock on the ability of employees to communicate with each other at work.”



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