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Leslie Bonacum
Neil Allen

Cyberspace And The Workplace: CCH Offers Tips For Creating Effective E-mail, Internet Use Policies

(RIVERWOODS, ILL., June 7, 2001) – Whether your employees use e-mail, the Internet or both, for business or approved personal reasons, misuse of this technology can cost a company plenty in lower productivity and even employer liability, according to CCH INCORPORATED (CCH), a leading provider of employment law and human resources information and e-learning (

But there are some simple steps companies can take to minimize the risks presented by such issues. By adopting an Internet and e-mail policy and making sure that employees fully understand the issues they face in cyberspace, organizations can make sure that employees use this technology properly and productively.

Policy Helps Set Boundaries Around Unwieldy Web

"The informality of e-mail and web communications and the privacy and ease with which they allow information to be transferred—sometimes again and again—make it necessary for everyone to be aware of how to use these tools responsibly," said CCH employment law analyst Joy Waltemath, JD.

There’s also the issue of employee morale.

If you haven’t communicated your policy to employees, they may be surprised —unpleasantly—to find out that the personal e-mail they sent from home on the company’s laptop can be accessed, or that the web sites they visit can be monitored.

According to CCH, organizations and their employees will both benefit from a clearly stated e-mail and Internet use policy that covers the following key areas:

  • Personal Use

Because employers have different needs and requirements, each organization should adopt and communicate its own policy regarding personal use of e-mail and the Internet.

Your policy should:

State if personal use is permitted, and if so, whether it is restricted—for example, allowed only during breaks or after hours.

State that if personal use is permitted, employees are required to act responsibly, appropriately and professionally whether during, before or after normal business hours.

State that if personal use is permitted, it must not be excessive and must not distract from organizational objectives.

  • Right to Monitor

The policy should make clear that the employer retains the right to access and monitor any messages and files on its computer system as long as is necessary and appropriate for legitimate business reasons. This includes the right to access and monitor employee e-mail and Internet use—and applies to both personal and business use.

Legitimate business reasons may include:

Identifying and diagnosing hardware and software problems

Preventing system abuse

Complying with all legal and regulatory requests for information

Ensuring compliance with the employer’s e-mail and Internet use policy as well as other relevant policies

Otherwise protecting the employer’s business and legal interests.

Make clear that the fact that employees have private passwords does not, in any way, mean that the employer has given up the right to monitor.

Additionally, include a statement that the employer reserves the right to limit and restrict access to the organization’s e-mail and Internet system. Many employees have the erroneous view that e-mail and Internet access are personal benefits.

  • No Expectation of Privacy

Let employees know that e-mail and Internet use should always be considered "public" information. Because electronic communications are the property of the employer, e-mail and Internet use can never be considered private or confidential—regardless of whether the use is business-related or personal.

Employees also should understand that they should not assume deleted e-mails or history of accessed web sites cannot be retrieved.

Prohibited Uses

Clearly communicate that the following is prohibited:

any use of e-mail and Internet that is inappropriate, offensive or that negatively affects employees’ ability to perform their jobs – or has that effect on others

any use that violates state or federal law

any use that violates other existing corporate policies, including those dealing with sexual harassment, equal opportunity practices, privacy, confidentiality and the misuse of organizational equipment and resources.

Specifically make clear that the company prohibits the use of e-mail or the Internet to send, receive or access obscene, pornographic or discriminatory material. Employees also must understand that they should never send messages that contain material that is or possibly could be interpreted as abusive, sexist, racist or otherwise offensive.

Your policy also should include a prohibition on defamatory statements and prohibit the use of e-mail or Internet to communicate any false information that could tend to hurt another person’s reputation.

  • Reporting Violations

Employers should establish a process for reporting policy violations. You may wish to use the same reporting process you already have in place for reporting harassment or other inappropriate behavior. This may mean that employees report to a supervisor or to an alternate contact, such as someone in the Human Resources department.

  • Retaliation

Include a statement that retaliation against another employee for reporting inappropriate behavior in the workplace, including violation of the e-mail and Internet use policy, is prohibited, including the use of e-mail or the Internet in a retaliatory fashion. Anyone who engages in retaliation will be subject to discipline, up to and including termination.

  • Discipline

State that anyone violating the rule against inappropriate use may be disciplined. Discipline may include oral or written warning, reprimands, demotion, suspension, probation or discharge. If the person who violates the policy is a manager or supervisor, a more severe penalty may be necessary.

Putting a policy in place and communicating this critical information will save the employee embarrassment at best, and the employer legal liability at worst.

Employers that want to ensure that their messages are heard have the option of training employees not only on their policy, but also on appropriate uses of e-mail and the Internet.


CCH INCORPORATED, Riverwoods, Ill., is a leading provider of employment law information end e-learning for human resource professionals, including HR Management Series, Employee Benefits Management, and CCH Shared Learning ™ , a comprehensive line of web-based training courses ( CCH is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wolters Kluwer North America. The CCH web site can be accessed at The Human Resources Group web site can be accessed at

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Editor’s Note: Members of the media who are interested in complimentary review access to Shared Learning may contact Leslie Bonacum at (847) 267-7153 or


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