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Labor board rolls back employee email rights after Google recommendation

A 3–1 decision

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The federal labor board ruled this week that employers can block workers from using email to organize, in a decision that companies, including Google, have asked for.

The National Labor Relations Board said in the 3–1 decision that “employees have no statutory right to use employer equipment, including IT resources,” for union activity, giving management leeway to ban organizing on their work email systems. The decision undoes a previous ruling from the board decided under the Obama administration, which gave workers more latitude to use their work email for legally protected labor activity.

The decision, which was based on a Las Vegas casino’s email policy, was recommended by attorneys for Google in cases brought to the labor board. As Bloomberg reported earlier this year, Google told the board that the Obama-era standard “should be overruled” and a broader, pro-employer ruling reinstated. A Google spokesperson told the outlet at the time that the company was “not lobbying for changes to any rules” and included the position as one point in a wider legal defense against claims the company considered meritless.

Google has been roiled by employee activism in the past two years, and much of the work has been organized internally, with Googlers posting on internal message boards about protests. But the ruling will have effects well beyond any one company.

The lone dissenting labor board vote on this week’s ruling said the NLRB “aims to turn back the clock on the ability of employees to communicate with each other at work.”