The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) is reconsidering whether companies may lawfully maintain policies that prohibit employees from using company e-mail and electronic communications systems for personal use.

In 2007, the NLRB ruled that employees have no statutory right to use their employer’s e-mail system for Section 7 purposes. Section 7 protects an employee’s right to form, join, or help a labor union and the right to engage in other group activities intended to improve working conditions, such as pay, hours, safety, or workload. These protections apply in unionized and non-unionized workplaces.

The NLRB’s General Counsel has urged the Board to rescind the rule it adopted in 2007 and adopt a new rule that employees are permitted to use their employer’s email for Section 7 activity. As a way to encourage productivity and discipline, many employers currently maintain policies prohibiting personal use of company e-mail systems. If the NLRB were to determine that these policies are now unlawful, it would have far reaching consequences.

On May 1, 2014, the NLRB invited briefing from interested third-parties about whether employees should have a right to use their employer’s email system for Section 7 purposes and what restrictions, if any, should be placed on an employee’s access to the employer’s email system. Read the notice and invitation to file briefs.

Briefs may be filed until  June 16, 2014 at the National Labor Relations Board web site.

Heather Sherrod ( / +1 713 651 5163) is a lawyer in the US employment and labor practice.