Seyfarth Synopsis: On Friday, December 1, 2017, newly appointed NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb issued a memo containing a broad overview of his initial agenda as General Counsel. It previews many anticipated developments during the Trump Administration. Our blog is exploring a different aspect of the memo each day during the first three weeks of December. Click here to find prior posts.

In GC Memo 18-01, the newly appointed General Counsel listed cases concerning no cameras and recording rules as requiring submission to the Division of Advice for consideration as to whether the GC “might want to provide the Board with alternative analysis.” The GC also cited to Purple Communications, 361 NLRB 1050 (2014). The GC’s inclusion of Purple Communications in its Memo suggests that the GC may disagree with the Obama Board’s decision.

In Purple Communications, the Board majority ruled that employees who have access to an employer’s email system as part of their job, may during non-working time use the email system to communicate about their wages, hours, working conditions, other terms and conditions of employment, and union issues. Then Member Miscimarra and former Member Johnson dissented.

In Purple Communications, the Company had an “Internet, intranet, Voicemail, and Electronic Communications Policy” that only allowed the use of company owned electronic equipment and systems, including email, for business purposes. The Communications Workers of America union filed the charge alleging that the prohibition interfered with employees’ Section 7 rights. The Union prevailed. Notably, the ruling overturned the Board’s 2007 decision in Guard Publishing v. NLRB, 571 F.3d 53 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (“Register Guard”), which held that employees have no statutory right to use their employer’s email systems for organizing or for discussing wages or other terms and conditions of employment.

In their separate dissents, Miscimarra and Johnson articulated various reasons for their disagreement with the Board’s majority. For example, Miscimarra articulated four main concerns and reasons for his dissent:

  • That the Board’s decision “Improperly presumes that limiting an employer’s email system to business purposes constitutes ‘an unreasonable impediment to self-organization.’”
  • That the Board’s decision failed to balance NLRA protections for employees and employers’ property rights.
  • That the Board’s decision significantly affects other legal requirements including well-established legal principles under the NLRA. For example, Miscimarra articulated that employers, unions, and employees would have problems exercising the right to use email systems with other NLRA principles and rights such as the prohibition on surveillance of employees’ protected activities, the Board’s axiom that working time is for working, and employers’ right to restrict solicitation during working time.
  • That the Board’s decision replaced a “longstanding rule that was easily understood,” causing instability, confusion, and uncertainty.

The Purple Communications decision has been viewed by many employers as a taking of employer’s private property. Given the GC’s inclusion of Purple Communications in its GC Memo, there is hope for employers in 2018 that the Obama Board’s deviation from its precedent in Register Guard may be reconsidered under the Trump Board.