The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently ruled that union and non-union employees who have work-related access to a company email system are generally permitted to use that email system for union activity. But, this use is not absolute. A company can limit email use to maintain production or discipline.

This new ruling came about when the NLRB evaluated a company policy that prohibited employees from using the computer, internet, voicemail, and email to engage in activities for organizations without a professional or business affiliation to the company. The Board found that the policy violated the NLRA and remanded the case to give the employer an opportunity to present evidence that special circumstances existed. The employer did not provide the Board with any evidence special circumstances supported the company’s limits on employee access.

As may be expected, the Board did not define “special circumstances,” thus allowing it to have a fluid definition. This omission will undoubtedly harm companies trying to comply with the rule without offering unlimited employee use of company-owned communication systems.