We've been hearing a lot in the news about the misuse by government employees of work or official email. (Think: fomer Secretary of State, Ms. Lerner at the IRS, and federal employees looking for extra-marital friends). It may lead us to think about how we or our employees use email and if it violates company policy. And, perhaps it's an opportunity to review (or create) an email policy and make sure employees understand it.
There are a number of reasons to have a policy about appropriate use of company email: liability protection, workplace productivity, company reputation, and data security. A review of best practices suggests that company email policies address the following:
1) Appropriate Use: It should be made clear that work email is to be used for business purposes, not personal. If there are exceptions for personal use, the company's policy should discuss the limits. Email policies may also be explicit about what is not acceptable, for example harrassment, discrimination, transmission of "spam," or commercial activity not related to the company. For security reasons, the policy may prohibit employees from clicking on links in unsolicited emails asking for updated information. Some policies may go beyond what not to do, and also mention expectations of certain etiquette.
2) Company Property: It should be clear that any email sent and received on company computers is company property and not private. The policy should explain (warn) that the employer has the right to monitor email activity sent on its email system, even if private in nature, including retreiving deleted emails off of a server.
3) Consequences: If an employee violates the email policy, consequences should be spelled out, and may include denied future access to email or work computers and/or disciplinary action up to and including termination.
As texting replaces email as a convenient and speedy form of communication, many of these tenets could be applied to that technology as well. As with any personnel policy, it is wise to seek legal counsel to ensure your policy both protects your company and complies with relevant statutes. And, of course, educating your employees on the policy and encouraging compliance are important to making the policy an effective one.