In April an internal BP company e-mail surfaced and was published by the Washington Post. It contained a quote implicating the company in cutting corners while installing the drill pipe used in the well hole at the now infamous oil spill in the gulf. Recently, according to an article by Michelle V. Rafter on earthlinksec.com, 13 UCLA Medical Center employees nearly lost their jobs because of spying on Britney Spears' computerized medical records. Last month the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the city of Ontario, Calif., was well within its rights when it checked a police officer's personal messages on his city owned pager.
About 130 million people at work send out 2.8 billion e-mail messages daily, according to an article in the Duke Law and Technical Review by D. Home. With e-mail texting, pagers, cell phones and other electronic devices available and easy to use, it's no surprise that some of these folks may blur the line between business and personal use. The problem exists in other countries. HRMGuide, the online website for Human Resource Management which reports survey findings, employment law updates and the like for several countries, says that since 2003 the misuse of e-mail has been the biggest problem for British employers.
So how is a company to protect itself? Setting clear and rigid guidelines for employees is one answer. About.com Human Resources offers a sample policy online that is available to companies. ( humanresources.about.com/od/emailpolicysample/Email_Policy_Sample.htm)
There is growing clout behind these policies. For example, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization whose mission is consumer information and advocacy (privacyrights.org), states that private electronic mail at work is not private. It says, "If an electronic mail (e-mail) system is used by a company, the employer owns it and is allowed to review its content. Messages sent within a company as well as those that are sent from your terminal to another company or from another company to you can be subject to monitoring by your employer. This includes web-based e-mail accounts such as Yahoo and Hotmail as well as instant messages. The same holds true for voice mail."
It goes on to state that erasing messages doesn't completely delete them.
Workers should educate themselves about their company's policies. If there is no formal policy, here are two tips to keep you on the straight and narrow:
1. Make all your personal technology contacts on your own time and on your personal equipment, not your employers'.
2. Don't put anything in an e-mail or say anything in a voice mail that you wouldn't want communicated to the world in print, on broadcast or on the Web.
Marie Stempinski is founder and president of Strategic Communication in St. Petersburg. She specializes in marketing, public relations and business and career trends counseling. She also leads workshops. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.