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Lock IT Down: The importance of having an e-mail policy against porn

Discover why your organization needs an antiporn policy.


It was a major wake-up call for any company without e-mail and Internet usage policies. The Dow Chemical Company, based in Midland, MI, fired 50 workers and disciplined 200 others in July after it was discovered that pornography had been sent to employees on the corporate e-mail system.

A complaint from an employee about the pornographic e-mail led Dow Chemical officials to take a snapshot look at their e-mail system usage. Before this, the company had distributed an acceptable use policy, but was not actively monitoring the e-mails.

E-mail policies are a favorite topic for TechRepublic members, covering everything from how to create an e-mail policy to how to get your employees to accept such a policy. These four articles highlight some key points that could have saved Dow Chemical and many other companies from dealing with such e-mail catastrophes.

The policy process
In “Liability @work: What’s your corporate e-mail policy,” analyst Joyce Graff provided tips for developing e-mail policies. Graff is vice president and research director for electronic mail for Stamford, CT-based Gartner, a business technology advisor. (TechRepublic is a subsidiary of Gartner.) She said businesses should:
  • Create a policy.
  • Make employees aware.
  • Train employees.
  • Monitor their e-mail to enforce the policy.

“You should reserve the right to go into that account, monitor that account, and take disciplinary action, including termination,” Graff said about a company’s policy.

Look who’s monitoring
More senior managers are rethinking their reluctance to monitor employee e-mail and other activities. An estimated 78 percent of U.S. businesses use workplace surveillance methods, according to a survey by the American Management Association (AMA) discussed in “StatCenter: Are you being watched on the job?” The AMA study found that 54 percent of businesses monitor Internet usage.



Some businesses have good reason to monitor employees' Internet use. In TechRepublic’s “Internet content management: A necessary evil?,” Neilson Media Research Inc. reported that at three large international companies, Penthouse Magazine’s Web site was visited almost 13,000 times in a single month in 1996, consuming some 350 eight-hour days.

Internet start-ups and traditional brick-and-mortar businesses take separate views of what is acceptable usage and when that usage is violated, and who should be the disciplinarian.

In the article, Gartner analyst Bill Gassman said high-tech companies tend to accept a state closer to anarchy while brick-and-mortar companies that have recently given their employees Internet access are more likely to institute draconian rules. A compromise between these two extremes may hold the solution to a reasonable policy, Gassman said.

Be up front about monitoring
The TechRepublic article “The right corporate policy: E-mail and Internet monitoring” examines the benefits of being up front about your company’s specific policies. If employees know that the company is monitoring their e-mail and Web surfing activities, they are much more likely to accept it, according to the American Civil Liberties Union’s Workplace Rights Project.

“Workers get extremely upset when they find out they are being spied on,” said Jeremy Gruber, legal director of the project.

Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Project in San Diego, warns that it is also a matter of how monitoring is presented to employees.

“If the monitoring is random or ongoing, rather than based upon ‘individualized suspicion,’ the employer risks creating the perception that they do not trust their employees. That could result in a morale problem,” she said.
It’s one thing to have a policy and another to be able to enforce the policy. Does your operation monitor e-mail or Internet use in order to enforce a policy? Do you think you should? Post a comment below or send us a note.

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