E-mail in the Workplace, Yours

By: Grace Cox
The issue I choose to explore is the subject of whether electronic mail is private to employees of a company or if it is ethical for the Company to monitor and view their employees e-mail and other electronic communications. As the attached article states, ninety percent of all companies with 1,000 or more employees are using e-mail. E-mail and voice-mail are commonplace to most companies these days. E-mail is a giant step towards the “paperless” office. E-mail is also a great time and paper saver. Gone are the days of Xeroxing memo’s for each employee, e-mail is much faster and easier on the environment. These new technologies are changing communications in the workplace and are creating new problems for employers and employees. These technologies are also allowing employers to monitor employees in new ways. All e-mails are viewable by employers, even if they have been “deleted” by the employee. As stated in the article, employer’s reasons for monitoring their employees e-mail are to investigate and prevent illegal activities and to evaluate employee performance. Company’s feel that what takes place on their premises is company property and therefore they have the right to monitor e-mail. Employees feel in some cases, this is a violation of their privacy rights. I feel I have to agree with employers on this issue, however, to a point. I feel employers do have the right to access employees e-mail with the employee’s consent as to when and how often and for what purpose. I feel there are differences as to why an employer would want to monitor e-mail. If an employee is strictly in a data entry, word processing or customer service position, I can understand the employer’s need to monitor for speed and accuracy. However, I feel for employees who are not in these types of positions, some sort of honesty must exist. I feel an employer should only have the right to monitor or retrieve e-mail if suspicion of fraud or illegal activities exist. I feel employees need to be aware that companies can monitor their e-mail, that it is not entirely private. Some employees may not understand that e-mail, regardless if it is saved or deleted, can very easily be retrieved from backup systems. Companies should institute a policy stating computer use should be restricted to Company usage and e-mail should be regarded as a business tool. The policy should explain the manner in which e-mail and computer monitoring will take place. The employee has the right to know how often they will be monitored. I feel random viewing of e-mails is an invasion of privacy, as would be bugging an employee’s office, which is virtually the same idea. Ideas, jokes and gossip in an office environment are going to be exchanged whether it is verbal or sent via e-mail. Each employee should sign policies instituted. Verbal consent is not an option. I also agree with the article in regard to “intrusion upon seclusion” meaning for the employer to be liable, the intrusion must be substantial and done in a manner that would be considered highly offensive to a reasonable person. In commenting about the case retold in the article about the black employees at Morgan Stanley & Co. suing for racist jokes sent via e-mail, I feel the company does have the right to intercept such e-mails. These types of e-mails are highly offensive, regardless of the intent of the sender. These types of jokes would be offensive to a reasonable person. Employees should use discretion with what they choose to send via e-mail. What someone wouldn’t say in person shouldn’t be sent via e-mail would be a general rule of thumb. Inappropriateness is inexcusable. Just as we discussed in class regarding sexual harassment, regardless of intent, the guilty party should be addressed and warned this type of humor is inappropriate in the workplace. Depending on the severity of the e-mail, disciplinary measures should be taken. On a day to day basis, I feel clean jokes and humor should be allowable via e-mail or any type of communications in the office. E-mail is just another way of communicating. Whether a joke is told via e-mail or face to face, employees still need to use discretion. Often, things may be said which you wish you had not said but the same could be true in an e-mail or voice mail situation. The only difference being hard proof exists when you use e-mail or leave a voice mail. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act is the only federal statute that deals with e-mail issues. Briefly, the ECPA makes it unlawful to intentionally intercept communications. Some argue that the ECPA wasn’t specifically including e-mail and voice mail at the time the law was passed. I feel the major value at stake is the issue of privacy. Although company’s feel they may need to monitor employee’s electronic communications for profit loss due to illegal activities, I feel the benefits of e-mail far outweigh the potential hazards. Companies should extend honesty to their employees if they want honesty in return. Again, I feel companies should institute a policy to explain to their employees exactly how and when they plan to monitor employee’s electronic communications. Employees should know how their privacy might be violated. Then employees know they may be monitored and may use more discretion then if they don’t know the company’s feelings on this topic.
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