Dos and Don'ts: Workplace Internet and Email

Having a workplace Internet and email policy in place for your small business is important. As an employer, you'll want to spell out what your company considers appropriate Internet and email usage and what is strictly prohibited (like viewing pornography or sending harassing messages). Every business is different. Take the time to consider what your goals are and how best to communicate them. If you create clear and easy-to-understand guidelines now, it may help you down the road should you be involved in a lawsuit with a current or former employee.

Creating an email usage policy can be complex, however, especially when balancing an employee's right to privacy. It's best to seek the help of an attorney to make sure you are complying with employment laws and regulations.

Be sure your policy isn't overly vague, such as only stating, "Company employees are expected to use the Internet responsibly and productively." That sentence alone leaves too much room for interpretation. Be precise. Once drafted and complete, always make sure your employees read and sign the policy before filing it away.

Here are some more tips on the do's and don'ts of small business Internet and email usage policies. Find additional articles and resources in FindLaw's Employment Law and Human Resources section.

THE DOs

  • DO provide all employees with training about the best and most efficient use of email and Internet searching-you want to get the most out of your investment.
  • DO make rules about Internet and email use-prohibit or limit personal Internet use and email correspondence, for example. A clear, written policy will go a long way toward preventing abuses.
  • DO educate employees about sharing financial or credit information only at secure sites.
  • DO make sure your employees know why they have Internet access-it should become a tool to do their jobs better, not a hindrance or a distraction.
  • DO create good policies and procedures both for retaining important documents and for destroying outdated or sensitive data.
  • DO designate an employee or a department to be in charge of technical problems with the Internet-your employees shouldn't waste their time trying to fix problems they aren't trained to fix.
  • DO protect confidential and sensitive email content by managing your in- and out-boxes or by installing encryption software.

THE DON'Ts

  • DON'T allow electronic mail to replace written memoranda about important issues or face-to-face meetings with your staff.
  • DON'T spy on your employees-give them passwords and respect their privacy. But make sure they know that their computers, including the contents, belong to the company.
  • DON'T let an email virus destroy your data. Make sure there is a system for monitoring such viruses, and keep critical data backed up or duplicated.
  • DON'T allow employees to access pornography or other offensive material at work-you are responsible if a hostile work environment results.

Get Legal Help Drafting a Through Workplace Internet and Email Policy

Don't let a poorly worded Internet or email policy create a legal hassle for your business. Lawsuits can be avoided by making sure your employees have a clear understanding of workplace Internet and email usage. Having such a policy in place helps to protect both your small business and the employee. Contact an employment law attorney today to help you draft your documents.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified business attorney to help you prevent and address human resources problems.

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution