E-mail and Harassment: How to Protect Your Company

Published: Mar 10, 2009

 Workplace Issues       
In this world of fast-paced technology, even though more work is being accomplished, personal interaction is often a casualty. As e-mail, faxes and the Internet take center stage, employees are relegated to the wings, shut off from colleagues and face-to-face communication. One issue that has come to the forefront is the misuse of e-mail and electronic communication.<p>Employees used to be able to interpret a face-to-face discussion through tone of voice, facial expressions and the like. But on e-mail, those clues are missing. The popularity of e-mail in the workplace has given rise to new kinds of harassment problems and created new challenges for employers.</p><p>For example, an employee who would never dream of telling a dirty joke to a female co-worker might not think twice about forwarding such a joke to her by e-mail. Similarly, an employee who wouldn't bring a pornographic magazine to the workplace might download pornographic pictures onto his computer and leave the computer screen visible to co-workers.</p><p>Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a claim for sexual harassment can arise where one employee subjects another employee to unwelcome, offensive acts that are so severe or pervasive as to make a reasonable person feel that the work environment is intimidating, offensive, and hostile.</p><p>In order to protect your company against sexual harassment claims, you must monitor and control youremployee's use of the computer. Because e-mail is stored on a computer system that's owned and operatedby your company, the courts have generally found that employers have the right to review the e-mailtransmissions of your employees.</p><p>An effective way to help your employees understand how to use e-mail correctly is to draft and circulate aclearly written policy regarding employee computer and e-mail use. It should outline prohibited conductand advise employees that the company will be monitoring computer usage.</p><p>An effective policy should contain the following provisions:</p><ul><li>No computer communications or documents shall contain profanity, obscenity or defamatory language.</li><li>All communications transmitted through the computer are governed by the company's anti- harassment and anti-discrimination policies.</li><li>The downloading, display, or transmission of sexually explicit pictures is strictly prohibited.</li><li>The company will perform periodic inspections of employee e-mails to ensure that all employees are complying with the company's computer use policy.</li></ul><p>You also should encourage your employees to inform you immediately if they see an offensive e-mail. Once you are advised of a potential problem with an employee's use of e-mail you should immediately investigate the problem and sanction the employee who behaved inappropriately.</p><p><em>Firstdoor develops and Web-enables valuable knowledge pertaining to all aspects of HR management throughout the employer/employee lifecycle. Designed to improve enterprise learning and knowledge retention, the company's fully hosted, scalable, and easy-to-integrate eLearning system provides 'eDoorways' to knowledge that are designed to facilitate real, on demand learning behaviors.(c) 2001 FirstDoor.com, Inc. All rights reserved. </em></p>