Email and Instant Communication: Where Manners Pay Off
Emails are everywhere on desktops, laptops, iPhones, and Blackberries. In the workplace, they have been embraced as the dominant form of communication, with too little thought given to the proper etiquette of using this powerful medium.
A recent Wall Street Journal report suggests that soon employees may spend three to four hours daily on email. It permits rapid response, provides a record, is informal, can transmit enormous quantities of information, and permits many people to be reached with a single click. But it can be a double edged sword. Sitting in front of a computer screen seems to loosen fingers to compose and forward messages that no one would (or should) express in a business context. Unfettered employees have commonly traded jokes, gossip, rumors, information about their personal lives, images both innocuous and pornographic, and more, through email. All of these emails course through the workplace computers, exposing employers and employees alike to potential embarrassment and liability.
It is important for all who use email at work to remember that email may live forever. It can be found, and is a treasure trove of information in litigation. Attempts to destroy it, like those of Vince Fumo’s staff, may have dire consequences. Some telling emails helped bring Bear Stearns down when the subprime loan mess started to explode. Reading another person’s email without permission is a crime, as Larry Mendte discovered. Larry Mendte’s leak to the media of the details of an email of Alicia Lane also resulted in a civil suit against his employer, CBS3. Simply failing to find them when obligated to do so in a litigation setting can have its own set of bad consequences, even to the well-intentioned company.
To promote proper use of email, and avoid its pitfalls, a workplace needs to adopt a set of rules or guidelines for email that promotes effective communication, and promotes worry-free use of email. What can even be more important than adoption of such guidelines is the training of all personnel in an email etiquette that promotes communication rather than miscommunication. An email training session coupled with human resource training about the company’s anti-harassment policies can be a useful tool in avoiding, as well as defending, future claims.
Email policies and training also involve records management and retention issues that should be addressed in a systematic way to ensure access to proof of contract terms, proof of compliance with employment laws and litigation rules. When the problems that chat rooms, blogging and cell phones with cameras can create in the workplace are added in, the end result is that companies need policies and training to minimize risk and maximize comfort for management and employees.
We would be happy to assist you in formulating sensible policies and aid you in training staff in appropriate use of these important communications methods and tools. Please contact Al Gollatz or Jane Shields.
The following article is informational only and not intended as legal advice. Speak with a licensed attorney about your own specific situation. © Copyright 2011 MacElree Harvey, Ltd. All rights reserved.