E-Policy: How to Develop Computer, E-Policy, and Internet Guidelines to Protect Your Company and Its Assets

by Michel R. Overly.

AMACOM, 146 pages, $19.95.

Overly Warns of Dangers Using E-mail,Tells How to Avoid Costly Litigation

A large group of women brought a sexual harassment suit against Chevron, claiming that a subsidiary of the firm permitted sexually offensive messages on its e-mail system. To settle the case, Chevron paid $2.2 million. This is one of many ways that threaten companies today as they use computers for such things as e-mail and the Internet.

Three-Step Defense

1. Have a company policy on computer and e-mail use. Make it very specific on the rights and obligations of employees.

2. Have training and awareness seminars for employees. In both of these steps, the company must emphasize its right to monitor employee files and e-mail.

3. Install monitoring and filtering software. This software should prevent employees from calling up company records to which they have not been given access, such as financial records, and should identify problem employees.

Most lawsuits are the result of employee misuse of e-mail, warns this author-lawyer. Use of it is easy and inexpensive, so employees quickly treat it informally. They don't know, or forget, that if they delete it, it can be "undeleted" months later, or that copies of it may remain on the sender's or recipient's computer or their employers' networks. Too, they ignore the legal threat of inappropriate e-mail jokes or cartoons that can result in sexual harassment and discrimination cases.

There is a danger for employees beyond the cost of litigation. It is that the entire computer system of a company can be seized as evidence, disrupting the company's business for months.

Employee Relations

A common point of misunderstanding is about a company's rights to monitor employees' files and e-mails in order to ensure that the computers are being used only for business purposes. In cases involving this, employees have claimed such things as invasion of privacy.To successfully counter this, the author advises, the company must be able to show that the employee did not have an expectation of privacy.Having a company policy, awareness sessions, prohibiting the use of employee passwords to gain access to files, and having a policy spelling out the employer's right to monitor employee messages will do this.

Curiously, this can work against the employer.By setting up stiff regulations against improper use of computers within the company, the employer "may have a duty to protect employees from discriminatory or harassing material."

Use of Internet

Spam -- junk mail sent to employees -- can overload network servers and cost money for storage. Two steps can be taken to halt this. One is to use filtering software to eliminate junk e-mail. The other is to program employees' Internet browsers to delete messages of this type.

Employee use of the Internet, such as sending or receiving messages and other material, may lead to liability by the employer in cases of defamation, harassment, or copyright infringement.

Your Company Policy

Don't miss chapter twelve that describes what must be in a good company policy. This is valuable for both writing the policy and following up with training and awareness seminars.

Helpful Material

This book identifies the many problem areas, then suggests sample clauses for a written company policy in each case. It concludes with lengthy appendices that include example policies. The result is a book that's easy to read and understand, valuable in pointing out dangers not commonly realized, and offering very specific defenses for employers.

Copyright © 1999 Soundview Executive Book Summaries