Over the years, we have had the internet spawning quite a number of lawsuits against employers. Email accounts for a huge chunk of this which can be traced back to cases of racial as well as sexual harassment emanating from emailed jokes etc. In this text, I look at the email use, internet use as well as privacy policies at my job whilst describing the laws regulating employee email and internet privacy. I also explain why companies implement email and internet policies and what assumptions employees could make as regards their privacy at work. Last but not least, I explain how these policies affect employee privacy at work.
Email use, internet use and privacy policies at my job
At my job, when it comes to email use, it is made explicit that the email system remains the company’s property and with that in mind, all the information sourced from the same including the messages, data etc are therefore the company’s property. Hence all the email messages received within the system constitute the company’s records.
At my job, the information technology department makes it possible for all the employees to use the internet as a tool for work related research as well as a communication source. Given that the internet is a strong tool when it comes to communication and research, the company insists that it be used appropriately and with great responsibility. At my job, emphasis is put on using the internet to source for information that is relevant and applicable within our company’s setting.
Towards that end, the information technology department carries out periodic reviews of the various sites and information accessed by any particular user. If the review shows that a given used seems to have abused the internet usage policy, the network privileges may be revoked and this could be followed by legal actions. At my job, any action that involves the downloading, uploading or even posting of materials that may be taken to be vulgar and/or pornographic is strictly frowned upon.
With regard to the privacy policies, the company reserves the right to monitor, evaluate as well as carry out an audit of all he information sourced, reviewed or sent within the boundaries of its system. It is laid out in explicit terms that the company has a duty to protect its business and hence any message including emails sent from its system may necessitate an interception. With regard to email messages, all the users of the company’s system are also informed not to expect privacy of any degree.
Current laws regulating employee e-mail and Internet privacy
Currently, laws generally allow the employer to review the contents of email messages since they basically own the system. Hence this means the employer can monitor messages sent within and without the company and this includes but is not in any way limited to instant messages as well as email accounts that are web based (Walsh 2009). It is important to note that recently, most companies have had those who work for them append a signature on a policy that regulates their network as well as computer usage while at work. Typically, this policy makes it explicit that the system is to be utilized only for work related issues and this gives the employer a reasonable right to monitor an employee’s usage of the computer as well as the email.
According to Nash (2009), the freedom from search and seizure absent warrant basically guarantees some privacy with regard to the internet and email usage but this can only be seen to apply for personal files say at home. When it comes to the information contained in the employer’s server, the same privacy enjoyed in the scenario I recount above is not seen to be reinforced by law in any way.
Reasons why companies implement e-mail and Internet use policies
There are a wide range of reasons why employers implement email and internet use policies. The reasons may be informed by the need to protect organizational resources as well as the enhancement of security. One of the main reasons why it makes sense to implement email and internet usage policies at the workplace is for purposes of safeguarding and enhancing security in relation to the IT network infrastructure. The internet as well as email policy could spell out what can and cannot be done by employees using the organizational system i.e. the sites that cannot be visited in the internet including pornographic sites etc. Some sites such as the pornographic sites are notorious for spy-ware and a wide variety of other viruses that may be detrimental to the company’s IT network infrastructure (Weckert 2005).
Secondly, some forms of communications sent by employees could affect the company. With the business field becoming increasingly competitive, a leak of organizational secrets could cost the concerned organization dearly and in such a case, it makes great sense for employers to constantly monitor the emails received and sent by employees.
On the other hand, monitoring the activities of employees including email and internet usage is reasonable as basically employees are engaged by the company to work for it and do all that appertains. With the raising in popularity of internet social sites, it has been noted that employees might end up using to much organizational time and resources whilst engaged at the online interaction sites like face book and tweeter. To ensure that employees do what they are employed to do, it is hence reasonable for companies and other employers alike to implement email and internet use policies.
Assumptions employees might make about their privacy at work
According to Stanton et al. (2006) far too many employees assume that their email is private. They hence get tempted to use it for private issues other that the organizational related undertakings. Nothing could be far from reality as the employer is allowed to gain access to all the emails sent as well as received and in that regard, any form of electronic data transmission using the organizational resources is subject to scrutiny and monitoring. Similarly, some employees assume that some private undertakings they do while at the workplace i.e. phone calls are subject to scrutiny. However, this is not the case as for any recording of a phone call; the employer has to seek the permission of a competent court of law as opposed to monitoring the email and internet usage.
Policies and their effect on employee privacy at work
It is important to note that some policies may have profound effects when it comes to employee privacy at work. For instance, video monitoring which the employer is allowed to use at the workplace for security as well as a measure to curb cases on internal theft can make employees feel that their every move is being monitored and hence feel as if their privacy is being infringed upon. While at the work environment video monitoring is limited to some places and prohibited in some i.e. the washrooms, some employees feel I overstays its mandate.
It is important to note that though the implementation of email and internet use policies is reasonable from the employer’s point of view, it should not be taken to the extreme where employees feel as if they are in confinement. In addition to that, though it’s not a requirement under the law for the employer to inform the employees of the monitoring techniques the organization applies, it makes great sense for the employer to discuss the same with the employees so as to avert instances of sabotage.
Nash, (2009). Workplace Privacy: Proceedings NY 58th Annual Conference on Labor. Kluwer Law International
Stanton, J.M., Stram, K.R. (2006). The visible employee: using workplace monitoring and surveillance to protect information assets--without compromising employee privacy or trust. Information Today, Inc
Weckert, J. (2005). Electronic monitoring in the workplace: controversies and solutions. Idea Group Inc (IGI)
Walsh, D.J. (2009). Employment Law for Human Resource Practice. Cengage Learning
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