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Cyberspace and the workplace: Tips for effective e-mail and Internet use policies

Putting an e-mail and Internet usage policy in place, and communicating this

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critical information can, at best, help avoid employee embarrassment, and, at worst, provide some protection against legal liability.

You have the right to monitor any and all messages and files on the company computer system to ensure compliance with the e-mail.

To help you deal with these issues, here's a list of technology tips to help the Internet-savvy employer develop an effective e-mail and Internet usage policy, recommended by CCH Inc., a provider of employment law and human resources information and electronic learning.

  • Make sure your employees know the internet use policy. Even the best written Internet policy will be less effective if your employees don't know about it or understand it. They may be unpleasantly surprised to discover that the personal e-mail they send from computers can be accessed, or that the Web sites they visit can be monitored. It's simply best to make sure they know the rules right from the beginning.
  • The personal use policy. Your e-mail and Internet use policy should clearly state when, if ever, your employees are allowed to use company e-mail and Web connections for non-business related activities. You should be especially clear if your policy allows for restricted personal use, such as on breaks or after core hours.
  • The right to monitor. Make sure your employees know that you have the right to monitor any and all messages and files on the company computer system to prevent abuse of the system, ensure compliance with the e-mail and Internet use policy, and to protect your business and legal interests. You should also take the time to tell your employees that, because electronic communications are considered property of the employer, they should never consider anything they write as confidential, nor should they assume that password-protected files are any less public.
  • Prohibited uses. Clearly communicate to your employees any and all uses that are absolutely prohibited. Let them know that you will not tolerate dissemination or observation of any content that is illegal, inappropriate, offensive, in violation of company policies, or that interferes with their or any other employees' ability to perform their job. It is probably also wise to include a prohibition on defamatory statements and the communication of any false information that could tend to hurt another person's reputation
  • Reporting violations. Have a process in place by which your employees can report violations of your Internet use policy, and make sure they know that they will be protected from any attempts at retaliation for reporting a coworker.
  • The consequences. Be sure your employees know exactly how they will be disciplined for violating the e-mail and Internet usage policy. This is especially important if managers and supervisors are subject to more harsh consequences.

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