Lawyers are citing the National Labor Relations Board's ruling that employees can use work e-mail for labor-law-protected purposes as among its most significant year-end moves, saying it will not only help organizing efforts but also force employers to stomach criticism voiced through their own e-mail systems.

In Purple Communications, the NLRB ruled that workers who are given access to their employer's e-mail system must be presumptively permitted to use it for National Labor Relations Act-protected activity on nonworking time.

“Think about all the workplace bellyaching that the board views as protected, concerted activity,” Ballard Spahr labor and employment partner Steven W. Suflas said. “Now you can have all that vituperation on the company's own system.”

The 3-2 ruling on December 11 reversed the NLRB's 2007 Register Guard decision, another divided ruling, which said that employees had no statutory right to use employer e-mail systems for conduct shielded by Section 7 of the NLRA, which protects the right to join or assist unions as well as concerted activity for workers' mutual benefit.

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