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  Oracle Tips by Burleson

Define a Policy for the Monitoring and Use of the Internet and Emails

By nature of their jobs and background, IT professionals are heavy email users in their daily work activities. Not only is electronic mail used for work purposes, but personal email is also exchanged via company resources. Sometimes the content of email is inappropriate for various reasons.

In Owens v. Morgan Stanley and Co., race discriminationwas claimed when email with improper content was initiated at work and distributed to white employees. Another case involving an oil company led to a sexual harassment lawsuit regarding email that contained sexually-oriented jokes about women. The plaintiff settled for $2.2 million.

All IT organizations and companies as a whole should monitor the online activities of employees to reduce the exposure by the company to any possible liabilities. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act(ECPA), a Federal statute, allows employers to monitor company email and internet use.  According to the 2001 Electronic Policies and Practices Survey, 62 percent of employers legally monitor employees’ email and internet access, and 68 percent of employers who perform monitoring note liability as their top reason for engaging in this activity.

Even though monitoring is legal, disgruntled employees that have been fired may still file suit for invasion of privacy. Therefore, in conjunction with the actual act of monitoring, the IT organization and company must have a written Internet and Email Use policy defined, documented, and published. This policy must declare that:

  • Employees do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

  • The employer has the right to monitor the company’s information and electronic systems at any time, with and without notice.

  • The company and IT organization will monitor internet and email usage.

It would be most beneficial for the employer to have all employees review and acknowledge by signature the Internet and Email Use policy.

Email Use Policy Case

The decision favored the employer in a case of electronic privacy involving Smyth v. The Pillsbury Company. The Pennsylvania State court determined that the termination of an employee based on the review of emails was legal. Even though Pillsbury Company had previously stated that all employee emails were confidential, would not be intercepted, and would not be used for terminating employees, the State court declared that no employee has a reasonable expectation of privacyregarding electronic mail that is transferred via company systems.  


Among companies monitoring internet and email use, 83.1 percent have a written internet policy, and 86.9 percent have a written email policy.

- 2001 Electronic Policies and Practices Survey

The above book excerpt is from:

You're Fired! Firing Computer Professionals

The IT manager Guide for Terminating "With Cause"

ISBN 0-9744486-4-8

Robert Papaj

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