Don’t Fall Victim to Electronic Abuses

Posted on March 3, 2020 in IP & Social Media

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By developing an electronic communications policy, you could keep your business out of trouble.

Do your employees use e-mail for company correspondence? Do your business partners conduct research on the internet? Does your company regularly back up and store the contents of its company computers? If so, your business is ripe for an electronic media and communications policy.

It goes by several names–communications policy, user guidelines, electronic media policy or electronic communications–but the gist is the same. Whether the policy is included as part of an employee handbook or standing on its own, an electronic media and communications policy provides essential guidelines for setting expectations and teaching appropriate conduct.

It also provides an important safeguard against liability caused by misuse and abuse of your company’s electronic communications resources. It’s not a far stretch to envision an unproductive employee who spends hours each day on personal telephone calls or e-mail correspondence. What’s keeping a business partner from surfing the internet for porn and creating an uncomfortable (not to mention legally “hostile”) work environment by sending his “research findings” to other employees? What’s protecting you from the employee who embroils your company in a copyright infringement lawsuit for illegally downloading and using  unauthorized software? All of these situations can be costly, both to overall productivity and to your bottom line.

What Should An EMCP Include?
Broadly stated, an electronic media and communications policy will provide the guidelines for monitoring employee communications. That includes telephone conversations, voice mail and e-mail; improper use of employer equipment; opening mail in the office; and expectations of employee privacy. In addition to defining the scope of the policy and the terms of what is and is not covered, an electronic media and communications policy will likely address:

  • Company ownership of all electronic communication systems and data sent from, received by or stored in the company’s computers, e-mail, telephone or other systems.
  • Employees’ expectations of privacy (usually, none).
  • Use of the telephone, internet, e-mail, instant messaging and computers, and restrictions on personal use.
  • Monitoring of employee communications, phone conversations, computers and e-mail.
  • Data safeguarding measures to be followed (such as passwords, encryption and turning off computers when not in use).
  • Transmission of confidential information.
  • Reporting/grievance procedures and penalties for violations.
  • No electronic media and communications policy would be complete without a laundry list (inexhaustive, mind you) of what constitutes “employees behaving badly” when using the communications systems. Here’s a small sampling of what is often included (each one could be the basis for an unpleasant lawsuit for your company if the conduct is not addressed):
  • Viewing or distributing sexually explicit, pornographic, racist or sexist material, or material disparaging race, origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion or political beliefs.
  • Viewing or sending messages intended to harass, intimidate, threaten, embarrass, humiliate or degrade a co-worker or that contain defamatory references.
  • Soliciting or proselytizing for commercial ventures, religious or political causes, outside organizations or any other non-job-related solicitations.
  • Downloading or distributing pirated software or data, entertainment software, music or games.
  • Conducting illegal activity, including gambling.
  • Sending chain letters.
  • Attempting to access or accessing another employee’s computer, computer account, e-mail or voice-mail messages, files or other data without his or her consent or the consent of an authorized supervisor.
  • Propagating viruses, worms, Trojan horses or trap-door program codes.
  • Communicating in the name of the company or contacting the media via a chat room or other means of electronic communication without company authorization, or releasing protected information via a newsgroup or chat room.

Don’t Go It Alone
Ideally, creating an electronic media and communications policy is not a one-person job. Because such policies touch on areas of human resources, information technologies, communications and management, it’s helpful to have more than one mind focus on what your company’s policy should include.

Do some research to see what other companies have included in their electronic media and communications policies (plenty are available on the internet). These can provide excellent content and format suggestions for your own policies. Be wary of copying them wholesale, as some of the provisions may not apply to your company. Discuss these issues with your business partners or your appropriate department heads. If you are the sole owner of your business, consider working with a consultant. Once your initial draft starts taking shape, be sure to run it by your company’s attorney or attorneys for their review–they’re the ones trained to identify and protect you against “bad behavior.”

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