During a normal workday, your employees may be cruising the Internet. Some are probably sending e-mail and instant messages to friends, family members and co-workers. And others could be shopping, banking, following their favorite sports team or booking their next vacation.
Most workers with Internet access don't see anything wrong with a little personal perusing at work. And most work-time Web cruisers insist their productivity is not affected by the time they spend on such admittedly non-job-related pursuits.
However, there are legal dangers lurking in potentially innocent e-mails among colleagues. An e-mail between supervisors, for instance, discussing an employee firing might appear as evidence in wrongful-termination litigation. And defamatory e-mail sent outside the company could come back to haunt you in the form of a libel suit. But will you violate your employees' privacy rights if you secretly monitor their e-mail or Web access?
Eliminate t any expectation of privacy that your employees may have while using your technology resources. Let them know that nothing in any e-mail should be considered private, and that e-mail and the Web sites they visit could be monitored.
Your first step is to establish a policy that covers what is allowable in both e-mail and Internet activity. Let employees know that they should not expect privacy when using the company's Internet connection.
And whatever policy you develop, distribute copies to all employees and have them acknowledge, in writing, that they have received and read it.
Your next step is to determine whether there is an Internet abuse problem. Analyzing your office's Internet traffic can show how much Web traffic is related to business and how much is personal.
If you determine there is a problem, you can install software that will monitor Internet activity and block access to questionable sites. These include SpyTech, Websense and eBlaster. Some applications filter e-mail, while others block access to unauthorized Web sites.
You can also selectively block access to certain types of sites, such as shopping, auction or sports Web sites. Blocking objectionable content can also minimize your company's legal exposure.
Many companies hammer home their Internet policy every time a user logs on to the network. As part of the log-on process, users are presented with a dialogue box summarizing the policy and reminding them that "the use of this system may be monitored and recorded for administrative and security reasons." To proceed, a user must agree by clicking the OK button. Whatever solution you arrive at, it will be effective only if monitored and stringently maintained.
Set e-mail guidelines, while covering the following in your policy:
- E-mail should be professional and courteous.
- E-mail must not contain any illegal, libelous or offensive statements.
- All statements meant to harass -- sexually or otherwise -- are prohibited.
- E-mail is for business purposes, not for personal use.
- All e-mail is company property.
- The company has the right to see e-mail sent to or from every computer.
- The company has the right to retrieve e-mail stored on its servers that users have deleted.
- Employees who violate the e-mail policy will be subject to disciplinary measures or termination.
- Spell it out
An employee handbook is an excellent way to define those parameters, so make sure it contains your policies on e-mail and Web use. It sets down your policies where any worker can find them and helps ensure that employees are treated fairly and equally.