Most employees, regardless of whether they are part of a union, are covered by the National Labor Relations Act. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently issued a string of decisions and rule changes that cause many to believe it will be easier for employees to unionize or claim their employers’ policies or disciplinary actions violate the NLRA.

Here is what you need to know and how it could affect your business.

Fast-Track for Union Elections

Effective April 14, 2015, the NLRB streamlined the process for conducting representation elections that make it much easier and faster for unions to organize. Under the new rules, elections could take place as soon as 14 days after employees file a representation petition (elections currently occur about six to seven weeks after filing). Employers will also have to provide unions with much more information about employees’ classifications and personal contact information as part of the process, and lose the right to request a mandatory pre-election hearing and the right to file briefs on issues such as voter eligibility and inclusion.

What does it mean?

If you employ a non-union workforce, you will have less time to respond to a representation petition and less opportunity to challenge the election process. Managers should be trained in union avoidance techniques and know how to spot the signs of organization. If you suspect organizing activity is afoot, get legal counsel involved for advice on how to engage employees before they file a representation petition.

 Company Email Can Be Used for Non-Business Purposes

In a surprise decision, the NLRB held employers cannot prohibit employees from using company email systems for non-business purposes such as discussing working conditions and union organizing if such use occurs during non-working hours. The Board rejected employers’ concerns that allowing company email for non-business purposes could pose security risks to email systems.

What does it mean?

The decision creates a presumption that all employees with an employer email account can use the system for activity protected under the NLRA, including union organizing. Check your handbooks and update any policy that strictly prohibits use of company email to “business purposes” because such policies now violate the NLRA.

Don’t Be Too Quick To Fire for What Employees Post Online

An employer violated the NLRA when it fired an employee for posting on Facebook that her boss was an “a**hole.” The Board found the vulgarity was part of an online discussion among employees about working condition and was protected activity under the NLRA.

What does it mean?

This is not entirely new, as the NLRB has long protected online speech that is critical of employers if it is part of a discussion among employees about work conditions. While there are limits as to what employees can say about employers online, this is a good reminder to resist the urge to discipline employees simply for venting online

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