The National Labor Relations Board, by a 3-2 vote, just reversed legal precedent to declare that workers have a right to use their employers’ email systems for non-business purposes, including union organizing. The Board specifically stated, “We decide today that employee use of email for statutorily protected communications on nonworking time must presumptively be permitted by employers who have chosen to give employees access to their email systems.”

This change in law only applies to workers who have access to their employer’s email system and only grants employees the right to use their employer’s email system for non-work purposes during non-working time. Employees may still be prohibited from using company email for non-work purposes during working time, and employees without email access may still be prohibited from accessing the email system. Further, a complete ban on non-work use of email may be lawful, so long as necessary and consistently enforced.

This ruling, Purple Communications, Inc. 361 NLRB No. 126 (2014), has been expected for quite some time, and is perhaps the first of a flurry of pro-union rulings to be released between now and the end of the year when pro-union Board Member Nancy Schiffer’s term expires. Member Schiffer’s appointment gives the Board a strong 3-2 pro-union slant.