It's Time To Dust Off Your "Use Of Electronic Resources Policy"

Certain provisions of employer policies governing the use of electronic resources have become mantra:  “Employees should have no expectation of privacy in their e-mail or Internet use”; “Employer reserves the right to access, monitor, and review any communication sent or received using corporate communications resources”; “Corporate communications resources can not be used to send or receive harassing, pornographic, or offensive messages,” etc.  But, employers who do not want their policies to become anachronistic should review and update those policies regularly to stay abreast of new technologies and new uses of technologies flooding the workplace as well as recent developments in pertinent case law.  Here are a few changes to consider.  We will follow with more in future blog entries:

            Blogging:  Blogging by employees is common.  With more than 70 million blogs on the World Wide Web and nearly 1.4 million new blog entries daily, employers need to consider the impact that employee blogging may have on their business and workplace.  Employers who do not endorse blogging should consider adding to their electronic resources policy a provision which bars employees from using corporate communications resources to view or post to any blog that is unrelated to work.  Employers also should consider a separate blogging policy to address off-duty blogging on the employee’s own time. 

            Video In The Workplace:  That employee who has spent the last three hours glued to her computer monitor without pause may be watching Gone With The Wind.  According to a recent Pew Foundation study, 57% of online adults have used the Internet to watch or download video, and 19% do so on a typical day.  Three-quarters of broadband users (74%) who enjoy high-speed connections at both home and work watch or download video online.  Employers who do not currently prohibit viewing or downloading video unrelated to work should now consider doing so before “bandwidth hogs” interfere with business operations.

            Web-Based E-Mail:  According to a report in the New York Times earlier this year, employees frequently rely on their personal Web-based e-mail accounts to conduct business or to store business-related material.  This trend raises a host of issues for employers including the inability to monitor the messages, if necessary, and the difficulty of preserving the messages as part of the litigation hold process.  Employers should consider barring employees from using personal Web-based e-mail for business purposes.

            Electronic Communications May Be Disclosed To Law Enforcement:  Recent cases, such as United States v. Ziegler, Doe v. XYC Corp., and United States v. Angevine, suggest that child pornography in the workplace is becoming all too common.  When the child porn is disclosed to law enforcement authorities without a warrant, the employee may be able to succeed in suppressing the evidence, thereby defeating the criminal investigation – as happened in United States v. Long, 64 M.J. 57 (C.A.A.F. 2006).  Employers can make this result less likely by warning employees that their electronic communications may be disclosed to law enforcement authorities if they create a suspicion of criminal conduct.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.