button Vol. 7
No. 1
Summer 2002


Cell Phone Liability
E-mail Usage Update
line Guard & Reserve Leave
line Useful Internet Terms
line Health Insurance Crisis
line Briefs

Braun Consulting News
News on Personnel, Labor Relations and Benefits

See our Archive Pages for Back Issues of Braun Consulting News!

button Internet E-mail Usage Update.

  • Legal Issues In Monitoring Employees      (link)
  • Preventing Problems before They Start    (link)
  • Spam and Junk E-mail                                (link)
  • References to Past Newsletter Articles     (link)

button Legal Issues in Monitoring Employees

According to a 2001 survey by the American Management Association, nearly 80 percent of employers engage in electronic monitoring of employees work-related communications and activities. This includes monitoring employees e-mail or Internet usage, videotaping the worksite, or recording employee telephone calls.

Today, employees privacy lawsuits often involve employer monitoring of e-mail and the Internet.

Employees have sued employers who have monitored their communications under either common-law state claims, or federal and state statutory claims. In general, the employee must show that he or she had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the communication at issue. Fortunately for employers, most cases have allowed employers to monitor employees use of company e-mail and the Internet.

In certain cases, employees are able to pursue state and federal wiretap statutory remedies, within limits, against employers that monitor their employees communications.

According to the Privacy Foundation, in 2001, 40 million of the 140 million workers in the United States had access to and regularly used e-mail and the Internet at their jobs.

button Preventing Problems before They Start.

It makes sense to start with a good Internet policy and prevent problems before they arise.

Here are some elements of a good policy that you may want to consider:

  • Include in the policy notice and consent language. This means that by using the company's e-mail systems the employee is in effect aware of and will be covered by the company policy. Make it clear that If they use the e-mail system, the employee expressly consents to the company's review and monitoring of e-mail messages as outlined in the policy.

  • Any technology use should be limited to business purposes only, including e-mail and access to the Internet. It is provided by the company to assist employees in carrying out the company's business purposes, and your policy should clearly state that employees who use company property for personal use are in violation of company policy and are subject to disciplinary action. The policy should cover use of e-mail, telephones and Internet access.

  • The e-mail and Internet policy should not be isolated from other company policies. Your policy should make clear that the company will treat e-mail communications as any other business communication. This includes transmitting any defamatory, offensive or harassing messages, and should be part of your overall harassment and non-discrimination policies.

    Furthermore, the use of e-mail to engage in communications that are in violation of company policy is explicitly prohibited. Recipients of inappropriate messages should be encouraged to come forward and report any inappropriate use of the employer's email or network. Be sure that reporting can be made by the offended employee to someone other than the offending employee or person. And, don't forget customers - employees are to be protected from unwelcome communications from your customers just as they are protected from other employees.

  • A Company should always reserve the right to review and monitor all e-mail and Internet use. Employees should be notified that the employer will treat all messages or other information (such as web sites etc.) sent, received, or stored in the company system as business documents. The company is entitled to review, monitor, and disclose any messages as it sees fit.

    Employees should be warned that if they make use of the network system to transmit personal messages or documents those items will be treated no differently from other employer documents. The policy should state plainly and explicitly that employees should not use company network to send or to receive any messages or documents that they wish to remain private.

  • The policy should strictly define appropriate Internet use and provide that employees may access the Internet only through the employer's approved Internet access procedures. The Company policy may also restrict or prohibit subscribing to public mail forums, discussion groups, and other miscellaneous Internet usage.

An employee's failure to comply with the company's Internet and e-mail policies should have specific penalties for clear policy violations. These policies should be enforced consistently and promptly. Employees should receive notice of these policies with full documentation that they acknowledge and understand these policies.

If your company implements these policies it can go a long way towards avoiding inappropriate Internet and e-mail usage by those few employees who may abuse the system. Those who decide to file for litigation because they feel their rights have been violated will have a much harder time if you use a policy right from the start.

If you make it clear in the beginning that the employee's use of e-mail and the Internet is company business and governed by a clear and well defined policy that the employee is expected to understand and adhere to as part of their employment, it will be less likely that you will face any litigation in the future.

button Spam and Junk E-mail

Spam is any Internet e-mail message that is sent unsolicited to any person. Spam and junk e-mail can become a serious problem if it is not handled properly - and sooner rather than later. The number of useless e-mails received can become quite large if permitted to grow. They will waste both company computer resources and efficient use of your employee's time.

Here are two of the time wasting culprits:

  • The e-mail "chain letter" hoax. These are the letters that have a "hook," such as a story about a sick child, or an offer of free merchandise, then a threat or a request. They will encourage you to forward the letter, and when this is done it further perpetuates the hoax... almost like a virus on the Internet that wastes time and resources for those who fall for them.

    These e-mails are ALWAYS a hoax, and perpetuate around the Internet because people forward them or reply to them feeling that it may be for real. They are not. Employees can be trained and/or instructed to ignore and delete these messages automatically.

  • Spam - junk e-mail. There are many varieties of Spam, like fake money-making opportunities, X-rated photographs, investment opportunities, cable de-scrambler kits, work-at-home employment, health warnings, offers of free long distance phone cards, and vacation prize promotions.

    Spammers have a lot of tricks, and are tough to catch or track down. Most of the time the reply address is a bogus one. Spam fills our mailboxes and wastes our time, so when in doubt... delete.

    Spammers and scam artists "harvest" e-mail addresses from all over the Internet. They use special software that can grab addresses from chat rooms, Usenet postings, Web sites, online bulletin boards, and even online auction sites.

    Not only is your system subject to unwanted email but such unwanted and unsolicited email can bring to your computer various bugs and worms, causing costly maintenance issues for your IT department or technician.

The problem of receiving this Spam and junk e-mail is another good reason a company might wish to strictly limit and monitor employee usage of e-mail and the Internet.

Employees should avoid giving out their corporate e-mail address and understand that certain usage of it can lead to unwanted e-mail messages from unscrupulous spammers.

Here are some things you and your employee's should know about Spam and junk e-mail:

  • NEVER respond to the Spam. If you do, the Spammer will verify that your e-mail address is active and can sell it to others. This is a sure way to get more Spam.

  • Delete suspicious e-mails immediately. Don't even open e-mail if you know by the subject line that it isn't legitimate. Delete the message if it contains one of the Spam/scam lines (free this or that, money making opportunities, etc.). If you don't know who the message is from, or if it is from "undisclosed recipient" or some fishy sounding address, then just delete it.

  • Protect your e-mail address. Don't post it on Internet bulletin boards or newsgroups. If you do like to post on message and discussion boards, do not use your company e-mail address. Be very careful any time you give your address out over the Internet, it may lead to more Spam. In fact, you never know where it may end up.

  • Don't forward any questionable e-mail. If you suspect that a message could be a scam, it probably is. There are no legitimate cases of forwarding letters through the Internet. There is really no reason to forward any unknown mail at all. Anything you didn't specifically request is a scam and should be deleted, never forwarded.

  • "Free offers" aren't free. Delete them.

  • If you get something in your e-mail box that you can instantly identify as a scam, get rid of it fast.

Staying ahead of Spam and junk e-mail is a constant process. It is hard enough to do even if employees only use their e-mail wisely and with caution... so it can easily develop into a big problem if it is not monitored consistently.

It is a good idea to review with your employees what Spam is and how to treat it. Teach them to recognize it and delete it, and how to prevent getting it in the first place. It will pay off in the long run. Your employees should have enough to do without spending time reviewing and perpetuating Spam and junk e-mail.

button References to Past Newsletter Articles

Web pages that we have previously covered Internet and e-mail usage topics include:

E-mail policies can lead to legal quagmire.

E-mail - the 'Wild Wild West' of Today's Workplace

"Internet Code of Conduct - Model Policy"

3. Guard & Reserve Leave. Next Page

The Contents of this News Letter are intended for general information
and should not be construed as legal advise or opinion.
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