In the wake of some high profile cases of misuse of business email and access to social networking sites on the internet, Aberdeen employment lawyer Louise Spark shares her advice on how employers can help keep their business out of some of the tangles of the web and emails.
Louise, of Lili Hunter Consulting Limited, says: “There have been lots of reported cases in the media recently, such as referee Hugh Dallas finding himself in hot water after allegedly having forwarded an email regarding the Pope which caused offence. Mr Dallas later parted company with his employer the SFA. There have also been various people in the public eye making remarks on sites such as Facebook or Twitter for which they have later had to apologise.
“Because we now have such ready access to technology, the internet and emails are literally at our fingertips 24/7 so it is very important that employers have clear procedures in place for controlling and monitoring email and internet usage at work.
“Employers need to think about whether or not email and internet use is limited solely to business purposes, or if private use is also allowed. If private use is allowed employers should set out rules regarding how much use is permitted, when that use is permitted and what constitutes inappropriate use – without such rules it becomes harder to discipline employees for misuse of emails or the internet.
“Inappropriate emails can cause damage to a business’s reputation, embarrassment and loss of revenue so it is very important to have clear policies and procedures in place regarding what is and is not acceptable and permitted. Employees often think of emails as an informal way of communicating. However, it is important to remember that emails can bind businesses in the same way as a more formal written contract so employees must be extremely careful what they promise or agree to within an email exchange.
Louise adds: “The inadvertent delivery of nasty emails to the wrong inboxes can be humiliating and lead to the dismissal of the offender. For the person on the receiving end of the email it can be extremely hurtful and could be produced by an employee to show bullying or discriminatory harassment by another employee.
“Conversely, group banter over email which leaves out a team member could also be seen as bullying and harassment so, as well as a policy covering all forms of electronic use, employers should also have one which covers bullying, harassment and dignity at work.”
Louise concludes: “Every person who uses email or the internet needs to stop and think before they write as even the smallest thing could cause offence – a message with words in capitals could mean someone is shouting, a message written in red could convey anger.”
Lili Hunter Consulting and Lili Hunter Legal are located at 499 Union Street, Aberdeen, AB11 6DB. For further information on employment law, training and mediation visit www.lilihunter.com Alternatively, call (01224) 228100.