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A Publication of WTVP

In a recent study, nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of U.S. workers who use a computer at work admit to having searched for a new job on their companies’ time and resources. The study was conducted in March by Hudson, a professional staffing and outsourcing firm.

In addition, 26 percent of workers surveyed who believe their Internet use is monitored have looked for new career opportunities while at work. That figure drops to 21 percent for employees whose managers know they use the Internet for non-work-related tasks and jumps to 32 percent for workers who believe their manager is unaware. Observation: while it’s important to have electronic communications clearly spelled out in company policies, the rules work even better when there’s an attentive manager.

Do you know if your employees are using the Internet to hunt for a new job on your dime? If you have an electronics communication policy, you stand a better chance of finding out if they are. Furthermore, with a policy, you can take action on the misuse of company time and equipment. Just to clarify: electronic communications systems include the Internet, e-mail, fax, and telephones.
So what are the considerations for developing an electronics communication policy?

• Establish that e-mail and electronic communications sent, received, or stored on internal computer systems are the employer’s property.
• Reduce exposure to invasion-of-privacy claims by clarifying that employees shouldn’t have expectation of privacy with respect to their electronic communications.
• Prohibit or set limits on the personal use of e-mail.
• Ban the transmission of material that’s obscene, illegal, discriminatory, or intended to harass or defame others.

While federal and state laws may not specifically prohibit electronic communications monitoring, courts might find such practices violate privacy rights. In ruling on such cases, courts frequently examine whether the employee had a reasonable expectation of privacy, given company policies, employee handbooks, and past practices governing employee communications. This confirms the need to have well-communicated policy that’s put into practice on a consistent basis.

To deter invasion-of-privacy claims, company policy should specify that electronic messages are company property and employees shouldn’t expect their communications to be private. Some companies require employees to sign consent forms giving the employer permission to monitor or access workers’ electronic communications. Another approach is for an employer to include disclaimer language on the log-in screen of its computer system so employees acknowledge the employer’s electronic communications policy every time they log on to the system.

While job hunting on the job adds insult to injury for employers that may be faced with the challenges of recruiting and retaining the right employees, this is another example of why employers should focus on how they can create a culture that engages employees. By having sound policies and practices in place, coupled with good managers, issues such as this can be identified and acted on. IBI

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