3 Steps For Keeping Your Employees'
E-Mail From Landing YOUR Business IN Court
by Patricia S. Eyres
With an estimated 1.3 trillion e-mail messages being sent annually, electronic mail is quickly becoming the communications medium of choice in many business settings. While e-mail transmissions do offer many benefits, such as speed, ease-of-use, and relatively low cost, business owners are learning the hard way that e-mail is a visible and potentially perilous communications tool.
Enact an E-mail Usage Policy
To improve your company's control over employee e-mail, adopt policies that clearly define what rights the company reserves and explain that e-mail communications are not private. The specific language of the policy will vary depending upon the company, the industry, and the specific needs of the work environment. The policy should be written and incorporated into employee manuals or policy books. Employees, indicating that they have read it and agree to be bound by its terms, should then sign the policy.
Defining the Permissible Uses of the E-mail System
Make it clear that the business owns the e-mail system. All messages that are created, sent, or received using the system remain the property of the company. Indicate that workplace e-mail systems are to be used for business communications only. Personal business is unauthorized and should not be conducted at any time. Additionally, it is wise to state that offensive, discriminatory, or disruptive e-mail messages are strictly prohibited. All non-discrimination policies should also refer to e-mail as a prohibited medium for inappropriate content.
Defining Appropriate and Impermissible Content
Employees must know specifically what is allowed and what is prohibited in the e-mail system. Explain that messages containing insensitive language, racial, sexual, ethnic, or religious material is not acceptable. Prohibit all offensive or disruptive messages, as well as abusive, obscene, or vulgar language, gossip, ridicule, or retaliatory messages. Further explain that downloading sexual, racial, religious, or otherwise discriminatory or offensive material from the Internet is not allowed. Finally, inform employees that violations will result in appropriate discipline.
Reserving the Right to Monitor E-mail
To keep your employees in compliance, specifically reserve the right to review, audit, intercept, access, and disclose any business or personal messages created, sent, or received on the e-mail system. To assure legally sufficient employee consent, the policy should contain a clear description that the employer will monitor the e-mail, which goes well beyond simply reserving the right to do so.
Enforce Your E-mail Usage Policy Regularly
Establishing a policy is only the first step to limiting liability when monitoring e-mail. Equally important is enforcing the policy in a manner that makes it fully effective in eliminating employees' alleged reasonable expectations of privacy. To make your employees continually aware that the policy is in effect, consider using an electronic disclaimer that is triggered each time the individual logs onto the e-mail system or accesses a personal e-mail mailbox. This also helps establish that the employee has no reasonable expectation of privacy.
Educate Employees and Managers About the E-mail Usage Policy
Despite the prevalence of e-mail abuse and consequences played out in the media, many employees still believe their e-mail is private and transitory, and that personal access to the web at work is untraceable. Employers must educate their employees that this is not so. A good employee education system will alert employees that the use of passwords does not indicate a message is confidential or that the company will not be able to intercept it. Additionally, it will point out that the deletion of a message does not give an assurance that it will not be retrieved or read. Employees should understand that until the message is written over on the hard disk drive, it is retrievable and that the company has the technical tools to do so and so reserves the right.
|<— back to articles|