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Acceptable email usage

THE recent sacking of several Hamersley Iron workers for breaching their employer’s ‘acceptable use of email’ policy sent shock waves through WA industry.

However, one Perth business-man says that email messages with offensive content should not be the major concern of WA’s employ-ers.

Communications specialist Neil Hymans says corporate Australia should be focused on the legal liability of emails rather than the incidences of pornography in email or other ‘unacceptable’ email usage.

He cites an example where one Perth company had one of its email servers subpoenaed in a court case.

“Organisations everywhere are now highly reliant on email, but they need to understand that messages with offensive content are not the most serious threat they face,” Mr Hymans said.

“Australian businesses do not realise that the courts regard email messages as having exactly the same legal weight as documents written on company letterhead.

“Every single email message is a loaded gun.

“Until management and staff modify their behaviour accordingly, the routine use of email will continue creating legal exposure.”

Inappropriate use of email by employees can have a devastating effect on a business.

Employees engaging in unfavourable discussions about clients or sharing sensitive information via email may end up being distributed to multiple recipients for whom the message was not intended.

This could be by accident, by an email being spread deliberately by a recipient, or the result of a virus that sends random email messages to everyone in an address book.

Mr Hymans pointed out that, while email is a powerful communication tool, it poses a major threat to business.

He was quick to add that although executives and employees would not be careless with sensitive details if they were writing a letter on company stationery, similarly sensitive information is often put in emails without due consideration.

“It is paradoxical that enterprises place almost no emphasis on managing the work-related messages that could literally put them out of business,” Mr Hymans said.

Through his business, Technically Speaking, Mr Hymans researches commercial email usage and provides training to businesses and their employees on appropriate and time-efficient use of email.

He said addressing the problem of inappropriate use of email by employees was a relatively simple procedure for businesses.

“Almost all of the companies we surveyed have now implemented acceptable use policies, which is excellent. On the other hand, virtually none has established processes for educating staff about the risks of day-to-day use and best e-mail practice,” he said.

Jackson McDonald Barristers and Solicitors senior associate Jamie Lyford said employers should draw up a clear email policy and educate staff on its contents.

He said that while there could still be some legal discrepancy should an employee be found to be in breach of an email policy, ensuring that the policy was properly communicated to staff members was a good measure available to employers.

Mr Lyford said the exact legal position with regard to email usage was not clear and would depend on the circumstances of each individual case should an issue arise.

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