In-House Email Policy: What Makes a Good One?

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on June 10, 2013 9:44 AM

The key to a strong in-house email policy is one that takes out the legal liability guesswork for both employers and employees — and the in-house counsel.

To avoid embarrassing legal nightmares at your company, it is crucial to have a written office electronic mail policy for employees to review and acknowledge. It’s not only meant to encourage productivity. It’s also an important tool to prevent email-based liability.

A solid in-house email policy should involve input from legal, technical and human resource managers. If you need to revamp (or craft) your in-house email policy, keep these questions in mind while drafting:

  • When can employees consider their work email to be "private"?
  • Can employees use office property to send email to outside third parties?
  • What specifically are unacceptable uses?
  • Who can review employees' email?
  • How often can employees' email messages be read (spell out the circumstances)?
  • What is the protocol for dealing with a violation of the policy?
  • Can employees be terminated for violating the policy?
  • Does the policy apply to employees who work remotely or telecommute?
  • Does the company want to back-up or purge email on a regular basis?

Why Bother?

Generally, employees have no privacy rights in their email at work. Private employees enjoy even fewer privacy protections than public employees. If the computer system belongs to the employer, then the employer is generally allowed to monitor their employees' communications, as long as they have a valid reason for it.

But if there's no good reason for it, reading employee emails could get the employer sued.

To prevent lawsuits or trade secret violations, many employers require employees to sign contracts consenting to policies that explicitly state that the employer may monitor email accounts and online activities.

If your company monitors employee email, make sure to have a detailed and clear email policy. Let the employees read it over and acknowledge that they understand it.

A good and transparent email policy will make life e-asier for e-veryone.

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