Everyone at the office thought that using the company e-mail system
to share jokes and funny stories was great fun. That is, until one
offended employee decided to sue his employer for having helped
to create a hostile work environment.
Employee access to E-mail and the Internet can help to streamline
communication among employees, and between employees and customers.
But, just like conversations or information communicated on paper,
E-mail messages have the power to create significant liability issues
for employers who fail to adequately supervise how the medium is
Here are just a few of the risks that unregulated
access to E-mail and the Internet can create:
Loss Of Proprietary Company Information: Most
business owners are extremely careful about the distribution of
hard copies of company confidential information, and take great
pains to ensure that such materials are kept secure. But, an ill-intentioned
employee can easily attach electronic copies of confidential materials
to outgoing e-mails, all from the comfort and convenience of their
own computer terminal.
Wrongful Access To Proprietary Information Of Others:
Just as your proprietary information can easily slip into the hands
of others, so too can employees tap into the confidential information
of other companies, or misuse their copyrighted or trademarked properties.
Such actions can place your company in the direct path of charges
of corporate spying or of infringement of intellectual property
Creation Of An Evidence Trail: As the Microsoft
antitrust cases clearly demonstrate, copies of E-mails are increasingly
being subpoenaed as evidence in legal cases. Seduced by the ease
of E-mail communication, many users become surprisingly candid and
may openly discuss business strategies and tactics that may come
back to haunt your company.
Contribution To A Hostile Work Environment: As
we noted above, offensive E-mail messages sent to other employees
can be just as problematic as the employee who begins every conversation
with an inappropriate joke. Unmonitored use of the corporate E-mail
system to circulate such material can land employers in hot water
for contributing to the creation of a hostile work environment.