In Purple Communications, Inc., a divided National Labor Relations Board held that employees have the right to use their employers’ email systems for statutorily protected communications, including self-organization and other terms and conditions of employment, during non-working time.
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As reported on Hunton & Williams’ Privacy and Information Security Law Blog, on June 5, 2013, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio denied an employer’s motion to dismiss, holding that the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”) can apply when an employer reads a former employee’s personal emails on a company-issued

How would you handle the following situation?  You have recently learned that one of your employees “posted” on Facebook complaining about the company, specifically commenting on work conditions and wages.  Several other employees have made comments on this employee’s Facebook page and a discussion has ensued.  These comments and complaints are damaging to the company’s reputation and portray the company in a negative light. 

Your natural inclination may be to instruct the employee to take these comments down and prohibit him from continuing to use Facebook to discuss work issues.  Yet, unions may be looking for you to do exactly that so they can try to file an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”).  Employers have the right to protect their reputations and to prevent the possible disclosure of confidential information.  But unions may try to construe the above situation and the employer’s reaction to it as interference with an employee’s right to engage in concerted activity, a violation of Section 8 of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).  Notably, such an argument by unions could apply to both unionized and non-unionized employers. 


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President Obama’s recent recess appointments to the NLRB leave one Republican among three liberal Democrats.  Should the opportunity present itself, the Board’s new composition will likely result in the overturning of two employer-friendly cases, Register Guard (email policy) and Oakwood Healthcare, Inc. (supervisory status). Overturning either of these cases may produce highly unfavorable results for employers.  The Board already has such an opportunity in Register Guard.  The D.C. Circuit recently remanded Register Guard for reconsideration on a limited basis, but the Board may seize the opportunity to reverse its initial holding.

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A recent decision of the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia has cast doubt on the view that employees have no reasonable expectation of privacy in work email accounts.  Specifically, in Convertino v. United States Department of Justice,  Judge Royce C. Lamberth held that an employee’s communications with his attorney, sent to and received on the employee’s work email account, were protected from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege, even though the employer regularly accessed and saved such email communications.

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