NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

NLRB Challenges Employers' Computer Policies

April 25, 2000

It would seem that because employers own company computers they can decide how employees use them. That, at least, is how the nation's courts view the question.

But the National Labor Relations Board has handed down several decisions recently which side with employees over their use of company computers, to the disadvantage of their employers.

  • In one case, the NLRB reversed the firing of an Ohio computer programmer who disparaged a new company vacation plan via e-mail.
  • Then Pratt & Whitney was forced to back off from a policy which barred employees from using e-mail for nonbusiness purposes.

But in a case involving Microsoft, a Texas state court in Dallas dismissed a suit bought by a lab manager who charged company officials broke into personal files stored on his company computer.

The NLRB cases are somewhat different in that they involve labor relations issues -- specifically, a company's vacation policy and union-organizing activities. The quasi-judicial board is empowered to set rules aimed at keeping industry or labor from trampling employees' rights to organize. It is also charged with protecting the rights of workers to communicate with one another about work terms and conditions.

Source: Michael J. McCarthy, "Your Manager's Policy on Employees' E-Mail May Have a Weak Spot," Wall Street Journal, April 25, 2000.


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