Why Your Office Needs an Email and Internet Policy

By Elaina Smiley, Employment Law Chair 

Work email. Personal email. Most of us know the difference, even if the lines can be blurred in their respective uses.  Employees frequently check work emails on non-work time and use company’s systems for personal communications.

A 2017 survey of 1,000 office workers found 55% believed there is no harm in using a work device for personal communications. But even if those employees are using their smartphones or laptops with the best of intentions, their actions may be opening their company up to legal and security risks.

Guidelines on when and how employees can access work emails and utilize a company’s internet and other electronic communication systems in a work setting are crucial in today’s digital workplace. Drafting an effective and comprehensive policy may be more complicated than a company might think, and it’s easy for human resource professionals and managers to miss important pieces.

A brief look at some of the chief priorities:

  • State permitted use of a company’s electronic systems: Clearly explain to employees if the company’s systems are solely for business communications or if personal use is authorized and define the extent of personal use permitted.
  • Define when employees are permitted to remotely access emails: It is recommended to prohibit hourly/non-exempt employees from checking and responding to emails during non-work time which could create a wage and hour problem for employees who are not being compensated for their work time, including overtime hours.  Only permit exempt employees to have remote email access to perform work.
  • Maintain professionalism: Digital communications can feel more informal and private at times, because people aren’t speaking aloud. The policy should forbid the use of derogatory or discriminatory language, sexual content and other non-professional communications in email and text messages, even if it’s being used jokingly with no ill intent. The same goes for the sharing of inappropriate websites, social media accounts or anything perceived as abusive or harassing, such as pornographic websites.
  • Prohibit employee personal endeavors: Even if your company allows some degree of personal use for email and other company systems, the policy should prohibit employees from using their work accounts to solicit others for funds, purchases, political campaigning or conducting work for the employee’s own personal business or for another employer.
  • No private passwords: Passwords for email accounts and other work-related applications don’t need to be known by coworkers, but the company should require employees to disclose all updated passwords so the company has access in the event an employee leaves or to monitor employee communications.
  • Describe employer’s rights: Clearly define that the employer has the right to monitor and inspect all emails, including personal emails sent over company email systems, internet usage, computer usage and other company devices without advance notice and the employee has no privacy in use of the company’s computers, phones, email and internet systems.

The internet is a complicated place, and it will only become more so as workplaces continue to shift into the digital realm. Clearly defining the guidelines of what is and what isn’t proper for work email and internet use is vital for protecting a company.

For assistance in creating a work email and internet policy, Please contact Elaina Smiley.

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