Did you know your business is liable for how your employees use the internet while they’re on the job? Many business owners protect themselves by monitoring their employees’ email and internet usage, including instant messaging.
Some employers are reluctant to implement an email and internet oversight policy. But monitoring email communication and web surfing has become an important part of protecting your business.
Suppose an employee at your business has been emailing inappropriate images or messages around the office, and these images make their way to a co-worker who finds them offensive. If that co-worker chooses to sue for harassment, your company could easily be held liable. Why? Because businesses can be held responsible for their employees’ activities while using company computers.
If your business had a monitoring policy in place that enabled you to review the emails going around the office (as well as your employees’ web surfing), you would have been able to take measures to stop the offensive email before it was sent.
Creating a monitoring program
Here are some useful tips to consider as you formulate your internet monitoring and usage policy:
- Implement policies about what employees are allowed to send: Tell your employees never to write – or even forward – any material that could
be considered obscene, hateful, defamatory, offensive, harassing or otherwise inappropriate. This includes racist or sexist language and/or jokes.
- Gain control over what can be accessed at your business: You have a right to ban questionable websites at your business. Forbid employees from viewing any sites containing sexually explicit messages or imagery, sites that are violent, or sites containing other content that may be considered inappropriate. Consider installing blocking software to stop access to these sites in the first place.
- Disallow non-work-related web use while employees are on the job: It’s becoming increasingly common for employees to use the internet at work for non work-related purposes. This trend is only getting worse with the rise of social-networking sites like Facebook. Therefore, unless employees are on a break, it’s a good idea to insist that emails are being sent and web pages are being viewed for business purposes only.
- Provide separate computers for off-the-clock purposes: Consider setting a few computers aside specifically for employee non-business use. Put them in a common area and allow employees to surf while on their lunch hour. Coupled with an internet monitoring program, this is an effective practice for many companies. (Just remind employees that your monitoring policy also applies to this non-business use.)
- Communicate your monitoring policy to employees: A common pitfall of implementing an internet and email usage program is that many companies don’t tell employees about their policy. By not telling your employees, you’re actually increasing your exposure to employee lawsuits. Telling them you’ll monitor their email and internet use will help deter improper use.
- Keep reminding your people about your internet policies: Once your policy has been communicated to employees, remind them about it regularly. It should be included in your company’s employee handbook. You might also want to consider having a reminder on your employees’ log in screen.
When you put effective internet and email policies in place, you’re taking a positive step toward protecting your company. It takes some time and effort, and communication must be ongoing, but it’s worth it to reduce liability exposure for your business.