Employee Email and Internet Use - A Small Business Guide

Introduction

It is widely recognised that Email and the Internet is here to stay! Both mediums have become a vital part of business and personal communication in a world that increasingly relies on technology. We understand its benefits and sometimes berate its downsides; too much email, lack of personal communication, spam, the risk of employees accessing inappropriate material and using employer resources for personal gain.

This gain in technology has not come without cost as increasingly employers and employees are being bought to task over breaches of copyright, confidentiality, privacy, discrimination and harassment and in some instances criminal offences (pornography, obscene and threatening material).

This fact sheet examines ways of measures you can take to greatly reduce and protect your business from legal and other risks.

Recently Monash University reported that email abuse had significantly increased as employees seek to avoid personal confrontation by sending abusive e-mails to those they had targeted or are angry with instead of speaking to them face to face.

This type of behaviour places employers at risk of claims of workplace harassment and discrimination and it is important that you take measures to ensure that this type of activity is clearly communicated as unacceptable to your employees.

By way of example, Biz Momentum undertook a sexual harassment investigation for an employer after an employee complained of sexual harassment by a work colleague. Biz Momentum found that the work colleague had unlawfully accessed 500 different pornographic web-sites over a period of 6 months and at the expense of the employer. The employer took appropriate action.

What should I include in my electronic mail & Internet policy

Biz Momentum recommends that you implement E-mail and Internet policies that includes the following key elements

1. Computer Policies and Procedures

2. E-mail and Internet for Business & Private Use

3. Audit

1. Policies and Procedures

Ensure that you have comprehensive computer policies and procedures relating to defined boundaries that protect you from legal risk for using your E-mail and Internet facilities.

Communicate these policies and procedures to your employees and new starts ? ensure that they sign off on these policies. This cannot be understated in the event of a dispute and is best practice management in protecting your business interests.

2. Email for Business & Private Use

a. Be upfront ? use of E-mail and the Internet is primarily for business use. If you allow reasonable private use, specify when (lunchbreak) and the type of mail employees may compose (electronic banking, child-care arrangements etc)

b. Be specific on what an employee may not access or use E-mail or the Internet for (breach of copyright, spam, masquerading, personal business gain, acts that incite hatred, discrimination to name a few).

3. Audit

Your policies and procedures should inform employees that you conduct regular computer audits in line with the law. This is not an invasive procedure but is designed to protect your business.

No matter what the size of your business, wether you have stand-alone computers or you are networked ensure that your computer logs are audited on a frequent basis.

However a word of caution! Be careful! There are various laws (Privacy Act) that define what you may or may not do when viewing computer logs and this can include not opening and reading employee E-mail or Internet sites. However by viewing the computer logs you can gain a reasonable understanding from where the traffic is directed. In most cases it is obvious if a breach of your policies and procedures has occurred.

You may find other useful small business guides at Biz Momentum (www.biz-momentum.com). You need to treat this information sensitively and take further advice from your practitioner before taking further action.

Ensure you business is protected.

Philip Lye is Managing Director of Biz Momentum providing professional services in employee relations (HR / IR Matters), training your people to work with you and not against you', 'coaching you' to be a better executive and review of commercial documentation, leases and agreements.

Phil holds qualifications in Accounting, Leadership, Human Resource Management & Industrial Relations and is a qualified accountant.

Phil started his working career as the 'postage clerk' in banking and finance rising through various business opportunities to CEO and CFO of two companies before leaving to start his own business in 2002.

For further information

Web: http://www.biz-momentum.com

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