NLRB eyes union email rule

The National Labor Relations Board is considering a rule that would give employees the right to use company computers and email accounts to conduct union business, a practice for which they can currently be disciplined or even fired.

The NLRB announced this week it is considering reversing an earlier decision the board made in the Register Guard case in December 2007, which prevented workers from using their company emails for purposes such as organizing a union or collective bargaining. 

Under the Bush administration, the Republican-led NLRB ruled that companies could discipline employees who conducted union business on their work computers and emails.

But the current Democratic-led board is considering changing this policy. The board said Thursday it is inviting interested parties to file amici briefs on the issue, as it considers whether to overturn the earlier ruling. 

"The general counsel and charging party ask the board to overrule Register Guard and adopt a rule that employees who are permitted to use their employer's email for work purposes have the right to use it for (union) activity, subject only to the need to maintain production and discipline," the agency wrote.

This comes after an NLRB administrative law judge declined to reverse the decision last October. 

Now, the agency's General Counsel Richard Griffin, along with the Communication Workers of America and the AFL-CIO, are taking their case to the board to get the decision overturned.

The board is seeking comments on whether it should reconsider the decision and, if it does, to what extent employees should have access to their company's computers and email systems, or what restrictions it should be allowed to place on this workplace equipment. 

The public has until June 16 to comment.