A corporate policy restricting employees’ use of electronic media to business purposes and “limited personal” activities was lawful. But, the Board held that the company violated labor law when it warned union stewards and committee members they had exchanged an “unacceptable volume” of emails and turned the company email system into a “debating society” by engaging in protracted and unnecessary arguments during working time.
The company, Weyerhaeuser, adopted an email policy in 2004 that restricted email use to business purposes though limited personal use was permitted with the consent of the employee’s supervising manager so long as the use did not affect employee productivity or work performance or the company’s business costs, goodwill, or reputation.
A collective bargaining agreement entered into after the enactment of the email rule above allowed employees serving as union representatives were allowed to use the company email system. However, after some representatives abused the policy, the company issued the following notice:
While the Company has granted the Union permission to utilize the Company’s email system to discuss Standing Committee related business, the amount of time being taken by Union Representatives to compose and send emails during working hours has risen to an unacceptable volume.
The company further said that union-related communications should “focus on the process that needs to take place rather than protracted dissertations or arguments.” The company even threatened that the failure to abide by its guidelines “will result in the Company reassessment of allowing Union Business to take place on the Company email system.”
As one would expect, since the company’s notice was directed only at union officials, the NLRB determined it was “facially discriminatory and therefore unlawful.” Had the company distributed a notice to all employees referencing a general overall abuse of the email system, the outcome may have be different. Companies with unions should know by now that singling out a union for just about anything will be considered an unfair labor practice by the current NLRB.
Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio lawyer who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm with offices in central and northeast Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. Austin Legal’s Concierge Legal Services program is relied upon by companies to remain compliant and competitive. If you have employees, you need Concierge Legal Services. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at Austin@LaborEmploymentOSHA.com.