E-mail and Internet use are integral parts of the typical worker's daily routine. Because of its speed and overall convenience, e-mail has replaced the interoffice memorandum as the preferred method of communication. Employee access to the Internet also is important as a means of conducting job-related research and transactions.
For these reasons, employers often have little choice but to provide their employees with Internet access and e-mail accounts. At the same time, however, employees’ use of these capabilities carries downside risks for the employer.
One issue posed by employee e-mail and Internet use is loss of efficiency. Recent studies show that businesses lost an estimated £5.3 billion to recreational workplace web surfing in 2003.
Another report indicated that employees are costing their companies nearly £1.5 million a year in lost productivity by spending an average of thirty minutes a day using e-mail for personal, non-work-related reasons.
Another challenge is the risk that employees’ computer use will expose the company to legal liability.
For example, according to another survey, almost 72% of the *** ographic sites on the Internet are visited during work hours. Openly viewing *** explicit websites or sending offensive material obtained from the web may create a hostile work environment. Moreover, inappropriate messages sent over the company's e-mail system could expose the company to harassment, defamation, or other claims.
One study found that more than 50% of employees had received *** ographic, sexist, or racist e-mails at work.
Still another challenge is the possibility that employees will use the Internet in a way that undermines or violates the employer's rights, interests, and practices. Some employees, for example, may use email to disclose the employer's trade secrets or proprietary information, or to engage in inappropriate contacts with competitors or customers.
So what’s the solution for today’s employers?
To reduce these risks, employers must monitor their employees’ use of e-mail and Internet access in the workplace. Accordingly, employers should be familiar with the law in this area and should implement policies and practices that minimize the risk of lawsuits or enforcement actions.
With such policies in place employers may monitor their e-mail and Internet systems, and employees will conform their actions to the reality that their employer may view their messages.
Policies should be tailored to the workplace environment in which they will exist. For example, in many contexts such as telecommuting the line between business and personal use may be very grey while in other contexts e-mail or Internet access may be provided to an employee only for a clearly defined, limited purpose and thus the lines between acceptable and unacceptable use may be clear.
Employers need to take these various factors into consideration when drawing up their policies. Generally however, an effective policy should inform employees that the employer is the owner of the e-mail or Internet system and that this includes all communications and stored information. It should also include a statement of the purposes for which the system is to be used as well as the discipline that an employee can expect to face for abuse of the system.
There should be a statement advising employees that they should not expect privacy in communications made over the system and that those communications will be monitored to ensure that the employer's property is being used only for authorized purposes.
An employer may also want to include a non-exclusive list of examples of the kind of use that the employer considers unauthorized personal use, or inappropriate use.
Electronic communication is becoming more and more vital to the modern workplace. The increase in the number of employees equipped with e-mail and/or Internet access raises risks for employers.
The most effective way to manage those risks is by monitoring the use employees make of the electronic communication tools provided to them, by using an Internet monitoring and surveillance software program. But also to deal with the inherent tension between monitoring and employee privacy is to put in place an explicit e-mail and Internet use policy, which informs employees that their communication will be monitored.
Profile: SavvyApps is a privately owned software company which specialises in leading PC/Internet Monitoring & Surveillance Software Solutions for businesses who want to monitor their employees Internet usage.
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