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The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) held in a 3-2 decision last month that employees who are given access for work purposes to their employer’s email system are presumptively permitted to use that system to engage in communications protected by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).  Purple Communications Inc. and Communication Workers of America, 361 N.L.R.B. No. 126 (Dec. 11, 2014). Section 7 covers all “concerted” communications that support employee interests, including general discussions of the terms and conditions of employment, and applies to both union and non-union workplaces.  These protections do not apply to employees of Missouri local governmental entities that are not governed by the NLRA, but Purple Communications may still be useful by analogy when considering a public employer’s obligations under Missouri law applicable to public employees.

Purple Communications reverses previous NLRB precedent, which held that employers could prohibit non-work use of their email systems as long as restrictions were applied consistently and in a manner that did not discriminate against Section 7 activity. As permitted by this previous precedent, many employers have policies that restrict email to “business use.” Following Purple Communications, these policies may now be subject to legal challenge. Consequently, employers should review their email and technology policies to ensure compliance with the Purple Communications decision.

As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation and should not be relied on as such. Please contact one of our labor and employment lawyers if you have any questions.

This update was prepared by Charles S. Elbert, D. Leo Human, and Erin M. Leach.