Inconsistent Enforcement of Email Policies: the Employer's Hobgoblin?
Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." But, as a recent Fourth Circuit decision suggests, consistency is a good idea when it comes to enforcement of email use policies. In Media General Operations, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board, the Fourth Circuit upheld the NLRB's finding that the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a newspaper owned by Media General, had wrongly interfered with employees' union communications. Although Media General had a policy prohibiting personal use of the company email system, the court noted that the company's enforcement of the policy was uneven, allowing a "wide variety of messages unrelated to company business" while prohibiting "union messages." Although this decision dealt with the narrow issue of labor relations, its reasoning could affect how courts treat claims by or against employees where employer monitoring of employees' communications or workers' violations of company computer policies are at issue. The lesson for employers: without uniform enforcement, an email use policy might not be very useful.