Can you monitor your employees’ e-mail?

In an age of mushrooming technology, the question above is voiced more and more often. Employers view e-mail surveillance as a way to ensure security, track performance, and control communications costs.
By Raymond Dreyfack March 1, 2000

In an age of mushrooming technology, the question above is voiced more and more often.

Employers view e-mail surveillance as a way to ensure security, track performance, and control communications costs.

Employees perceive monitoring as an invasion of privacy. This was the position Jim Hollander, a young member of the plant engineering department, took when called on the carpet by Engineering Supervisor Alan Gridley, for “excessive use and abuse of the company’s e-mail system.”

“You’ve got no right to look into my personal e-mail,” Hollander protested.

“We’ve got every right,” growled Gridley.

“We’ll see about that.” Hollander shouted as he stormed off.

When word of the incident got to Plant Engineer Fred Royce, he decided some action was necessary on his part to help clear up the situation.

Question: In Royce’s shoes, how would you handle the dispute?

Royce’s decision: “This is an issue we were going to have to deal with eventually,” Royce told Gridley.

In response to Gridley’s puzzled frown, he explained. “Hollander is probably at fault as accused. But I can’t help feeling that the company should share some of the blame. A clearly defined and stated e-mail policy is long overdue. Were this in effect, this dispute would not have arisen. There’s no better time than now to remedy this situation.”

Royce arranged a management meeting next day to set and clarify the following policy issues: 1. E-mail use confined strictly to business. 2. Confidential and sensitive information should not be communicated via e-mail. 3. Employees should be informed that e-mail is subject to management scrutiny. 4. Offensive messages and/or language via e-mail are prohibited. 5. Violators of the above-stated policy will be subject to discipline.

The company’s e-mail policy was posted on company-wide bulletin boards next day. It was also made clear to Hollander that continued abuse of the system would not be tolerated.