The German Federal Labour Court recently held that an employee is not entitled to use an email account that has been provided to him by his or her employer for official work purposes in order to distribute a strike call within the company.

In the case at issue, the German trade union ver.di decided to call for a warning strike at a hospital. An employee of the hospital, who served as chairman of the hospital´s works council and member of the trade union, ver.di, forwarded the call over his work email account via the hospital´s intranet to all hospital employees and asked them to take part in the strike. According to a written policy of the employer, the intranet may be used for job-related purposes only.

The employer claimed injunctive relief on the grounds that the employee had infringed the principle of neutrality that works councils are subject to in respect of labour conflicts. The employee argued that he had distributed the strike call, not in his function as works council, but as member of the trade union, and that his actions were justified by his constitutionally protected right to freedom of association.

The German Federal Labour Court ruled that an employer is not obligated to permit the distribution of strike calls via its intranet. In the opinion of the judges, employers cannot be expected to support union measures by an employee in a labour conflict by allowing the employee to use the employer’s own resources against itself – irrespective of whether the job-related intranet access has been provided to the employee in his function as works council or not.

The aforementioned decision is in line with prior precedent of the German Federal Labour Court, where the court has held, on the basis of property rights principles, that an employer is not required to permit employees to affix stickers of their trade union on helmets provided by the employer to the employee for work purposes.