Many employers are finding their companies held liable for an employee’s misuse of a computer system, bringing the company negative publicity and in some instances, subjecting it to civil or criminal liability. Therefore, it is important that employers take a proactive approach in setting guidelines governing their employees’ Internet and e-mail usage.
At minimum, all employers should implement detailed policies regarding use of their company’s information and technology systems. Prudent employers will review their policies annually and make necessary revisions to reflect changes in technology. When drafting or reviewing such policies, companies should make sure to impress upon their employees that the employees have no reasonable expectation of privacy in their communications made through company owned devices. In this regard, the policies should include statements such as:
- The company’s information and technology systems are to be used for business related purposes only.
- Internet and e-mail conduct that violates the law or the company’s policies is strictly prohibited.
- Equipment provided by the company, including any information stored on that equipment, is owned by the company and therefore may be reviewed or monitored at any time by management.
- Violation of the company’s policies regarding information and technology systems will result in disciplinary actions including termination.
- The company will report any suspected illegal activities it uncovers to the appropriate authorities. Furthermore, the company will cooperate with law enforcement officials seeking evidence.
This information should be disseminated in an employee handbook and posted in an accessible location such as on the company’s intranet site or a cafeteria bulletin board. Additionally, as with all company policies, employers should obtain written acknowledgements from their employees confirming that its employees have read and agree to the policy.
Companies may also consider implementing computer monitoring practices. Software tracking programs are available to monitor computer usage and electronic communications, and firewalls can be used to block certain types of information from being communicated by or to the company’s information and technology systems. Of course, before implementing any of these solutions, employers should take care to confirm that they do not violate applicable laws governing wiretapping, electronic communications or the like.