NLRB Rules that Employees have No Right to Use Employer E-mail for Union Solicitations and Announces New Standard for Discriminatory Policy Enforcement Charges
One December 16, 2007, the Board issued its much anticipated decision in Guard Publishing Company d/b/a Register Guard and Eugene Newspaper Guild, CWA Local 37194 holding an employer did not violate section 7 by maintaining a policy that prohibited employees from using the employer’s e-mail system of any “non-job-related solicitations.”
The NLRB’s 3-2 decision also announced and applied a new standard for determining whether an employer has violated the act by discriminatorily enforcing its policies to disadvantage protected union-related activity. The new standard distinguishes between personal nonwork-related messages and “group” or “organizational” messages such as a union. Therefore, “discrimination under the Act means drawing distinctions along Section 7 lines.”
In Guard Publishing, the employer had a written policy prohibiting e-mail use for non-work-related solicitations. However, the employer allowed several such communications like jokes, party invitations, request for services such as dog walking, etc, but it never allowed e-mail use for solicitation by or on behalf of outside organizations other than the United Way. The employer issued two warnings to an employee who sent three union-related e-mails, which lead to the charge of discriminatory enforcement of the policy.
The Board majority held that two of the three e-mail communications were direct solicitations to join the union and violated the policy; however, the third message was not a solicitation, merely a clarification of events surrounding a union event. Therefore, under the newly announced standard, the employer did not discriminate along section 7 lines when it disciplined the employee for the two union solicitation e-mails since it had never allowed employees to use its e-mail system to solicit on behalf of any other outside group. However, the employer’s enforcement of the policy with respect to the third e-mail which was not a solicitation was unlawful.
The new standard should have an important impact on employer’s e-mail policies and charges related to discriminatory enforcement of employer’s policies.