Talking Shop: IT manager seeks help handling an e-mail policy infraction

Ways to enforce enterprise e-mail policies

It seems to be an unfortunate fact of life that some employees will always abuse IT resources. Having clearly stated written policies in place to govern how such resources as e-mail, the Internet, and personal computers are used is an essential part of curbing this abuse. As you have seen in several previous scenarios, such as "Upper management ignores overwhelmed e-mail server," not having the appropriate policies in place from the inception of a new resource can have potentially catastrophic consequences. Although policies are necessary, merely having one in place does not guarantee its effective and appropriate enforcement. Whistle blowers are often penalized and policies are sometimes selectively applied and subject to misinterpretation.

Here is a scenario in which one IT manager is uncertain whether to report an infringement of an e-mail policy. Although the policy in question is clearly stated, because of the particular mix of the people involved, the IT manager fears that more damage will result from attempting to enforce the policy than from simply overlooking the infraction. Please read Mark's account of the difficult choice he faces and be prepared to offer your advice. If you have successfully negotiated a similar situation, we are particularly interested in hearing the details of your solution.

Mark's story
"I was recently involved in disciplinary action against an employee who was shuffling porn in and out of the company via e-mail.

"Several years ago I implemented a very clear and detailed policy on e-mail use, so the issue was fairly clear-cut. The problem is that the person involved is a Muslim, and several other Muslims in the company with whom he was sharing e-mail also have material of a religiously inflammatory and anti-Semitic/anti-American/anti-Israeli nature in their mailboxes.

"Our policy also prohibits this sort of hate mail, so, theoretically, I should have a clear path to take action. However, I am Jewish, and have no wish to stir up any resentment among the 20 or so Muslims in the company, with whom I mostly have an excellent working relationship."

What's the solution?
Before proceeding any further with the matter, Mark would like some input regarding the following questions:
  • How can he implement and maintain the policy while also maintaining the good relationships he has built?
  • Should he delegate the task to a coworker?
  • Should he ask the person's unit manager to do it?

The first question regarding implementing policy while maintaining good working relationships is an important one, as it pervades so many aspects of an IT manager's life at work. All too often IT managers are perceived as an impediment to productivity. The restrictions IT managers impose on Internet browsing, the size of e-mails, application installs on PCs, and so on are not always seen as being for the employee's or the company's benefit.

Mark's question is one that many IT managers will have to face at some point in their careers. Please share any ideas or relevant experiences that could help Mark and other IT managers facing similar situations by e-mailing us or by participating in the discussion accompanying this article.

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