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October 16, 2008

Who Is Reading Your E-mail?

Filed under: Communication8:03 am

Is all this hub-bub about employer e-mail monitoring and rampant employee abuse of workplace email and high-speed Internet connections based on fact or just Big Brother ‘scare tactics’ to keep employee noses to the grindstone and hock Internet and e-mail monitoring software? Regardless of where you stand on this point, if you DO NOT have a company e-mail and computer/network use policy in place, and communicated it to your employees, you really do have your head in the sand. Consider these statistics:
Almost one-third of companies said they’ve fired an employee in the last 12 months for violating e-mail policies, and 52% of the companies said they have disciplined an employee for violating e-mail rules in the past year (Seattle Times survey)

83% of companies surveyed said they have an acceptable-use e-mail policy in place, but just 51% said they’d trained workers on the policy in the last 12 months. (Seattle Times, 7/2006 survey)

Non-work related Internet surfing results in up to a 40% loss in productivity each year at American businesses. (Gartner Group)

85.6% of employees use office e-mail for personal reasons. (NFO Worldwide)

70% of all web traffic to Internet pornography sites occurs during the work hours of 9am-5pm. (Sex Tracker)

92% of online stock trading occurs from the workplace during work hours. (Business Week)

64% of employees have received politically incorrect or offensive e-mails at work. (Business Week)

30 to 40% of Internet use in the workplace is not related to business. (IDC Research)

24% of American workers admit to shopping online while at work. (IDC Research)

While some state employment laws vary slightly on this topic, generally speaking employers have every right, and legitimate reasons, to monitor employee e-mail and Internet use when conducted on company computers and using the company network. Employers generally admit they are not concerned with catching the employee that forwards the occasional e-mail joke de jour or chain letter (although these type of disruptive e-mails clog and drain e-mail server capacity), they are more concerned with e-mail messages that divulge confidential data, customer information, trade secrets, financial information, or personal identity data. With the increase in corporate legislative proceedings where e-mail records are often subpoenaed and admitted as evidence, company IT directors are being challenged to save and archive all electronic communications sent and received over the company network.

So as an employee, the safe bet is to assume, because it is probably true, that all your emails (regardless of whether you have deleted them from your mailbox) and a record of every visit you make to a website are being squirreled away on some secure server partition in the deep recesses of IT land and could be retrieved and reviewed at any time by company staff.

As an employer, if you don’t already have one, establish and communicate a clearly stated e-mail and Internet usage policy. Inform employees of what is and is not considered appropriate e-mail and Internet usage. Let employees know their e-mail and IM communications are being stored and potentially monitored. Explain that this is to protect both company information and their personal information. Communicate the seriousness of the topic and the consequences of breaking the policy.

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