What’s your email policy? If you don’t have one, now is the time to add it to your policies and procedures manual and communicate it to all employees.
…electronic communications must be consistent with the standards of ethical and proper behavior and conduct. You may not use electronic communications to create, forward, or display any offensive or disruptive messages, including photos, graphics and audio materials…
The use of email can come back to haunt like a legal time bomb. IE: the Microsoft case. Much of the Government’s case was built on the internal email among Microsoft’s executives.
Here are some necessary steps:
- Create a formal email policy that spells out the risks to employees of inappropriate emails and the language that should or should not be included. Make sure to include how long employees should retain email and the method to dispose them.
- Your electronic communication policy must refer to your policy on sexual harassment and non-discrimination.
- Communicate your email policy to your independent contractors.
- Publicize what the penalties are for violating the email policy.
- Treat email with the same respect you give to regular mail.
- Be aware of transmitting confidential information that may violate privacy laws. That information may have to be encrypted.
- If employees use their home computers for business email, their entire personal correspondence file can be subpoenaed in any action against the company.
- Include that you, as the employer, reserve the right, but assume no duty, to monitor all employee communications at all times during employment. You also reserve the right to block access to chat rooms or other inappropriate Web sites and can impose reasonable restrictions on electronic communications.
- To diffuse any invasion of privacy rights, all employees should sign off recognizing that all email is the exclusive property of the company.
- Employees must treat email with the same respect regarding customers and others.
Email lives in “cyber perpetuity.” Even though you may delete it, the original message lives on someone else’s computer. Each time any email message is handled by a server it makes a copy. The time it reaches you or any recipient, several copies have been created and stored. For each additional recipient, the number of potential electronic copies of the document increases exponentially.
Upon receipt of the message, any recipient may delete it, but only the recipient’s copy will be deleted. Other copies will remain stored. Somewhere, unless all the copies are deleted, there will be a record. An attorney will search far and wide to find that record if need be…and the cost to do so can be overwhelmingly devastating.
An electronic media request can include email, correspondence stored on main frames, PC’s. laptops, file servers, backup tapes and optical disks, “retired” hard drives and floppy disks, and yes, voice mail.
Don’t let email go unregulated. Train employees, not just how to use it, but how to communicate with it. Remember that electronic communication is litigation lurking around the corner!