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Establish E-mail Policies to Prevent
Dear HR Doctor:
E-mail and use of the Internet are relatively new tools in my county.
There have already been some improper e-mail messages involving personal
business or religious opinions expressed.
What should the county government do to put reasonable e-mail controls
You are right that e-mails are part of our lives personally and in our
public administration roles. They are so powerful a tool for government
communications that reasonable policies should be established to limit the
possibility that they will be abused. The HR Doctor suggests these basic
policy elements so that every employee can be made aware of what is
expected by the organization and so that the county and individual
liability from the misuse of e-mail can be minimized:
1. Clearly state that computer hardware and software purchased, leased
or rented by the county are the property of the county and are to be used
only for business purposes.
State whether the equipment is assigned to one employee or a group of
employees, identify the equipment by type, and specify that the use of the
hardware and software for personal business or non-governmental purposes
And state that violations subject a person to disciplinary action,
including possible termination.
2. Include in the policy clear notice to employees not to expect
privacy in the use of county e-mail and computer systems. As an employer,
the county reserves the right to review e-mail transmissions and to
inspect the contents of its computer property, such as disk drives, and to
monitor systems. The county must ensure that the policy is being honored
and disclose materials stored in the system for audit and review
3. Clearly point out that transmitting inappropriate messages by
e-mail, fax or other electronic means is prohibited and that serious
discipline, including possible termination, may result.
Such messages include those which involve racial, religious or gender
epithets, as well as materials that are religious in nature, materials for
the personal benefit of individuals and of course, obscene materials.
4. Depending on the public records laws in your state, it would be good
to note in the policy that e-mail messages and other contents of a
computer hard drive are public records and open to public inspection.
E-mail users should be advised that the deletion of such materials from an
e-mail file or hard drive may violate the state's public records law.
5. Suggest to your county's information technology director the
possibility of implementing a "sign-on" screen, when the e-mail system is
activated, with a message advising the user that the system is to be used
for county business purposes only, and that personal correspondence or
messages are not authorized.
6. Finally, the notice should also include the right of the county to
access, audit or review messages entered into the system. That way, when
signing on the user is acknowledging that he or she has read and
understands the importance of the policy.
These basic elements of an e-mail policy should be amended to meet the
needs of your county and relevant state law. The HR Doctor suggests that
you share a draft of the policy with the county attorney and the
information technology director for input on the draft prior to presenting
it to the county administrator or elected officials.
Once a policy has been approved, the real work begins. Managers and
supervisors need training about what the policy means and how it is to be
implemented. A policy needs to be disseminated throughout the
organization. Don't forget to include in your communication plan the use
of e-mail distribution. Also, include the policy in the materials you give
to new employees and the training you do for new supervisors. Once the
policy is approved and disseminated, it is very important to ensure that
it is applied consistently.
A critical function for any modern human resources staff is to help the
organization apply its personnel policies consistently to make them more
successful, and to reduce liability based on unlawful discrimination.
This is true not only of e-mail, but of all other HR policy areas. I
hope this is helpful.
The HR Doctor
(P.S.: Speaking of e-mail, the HR Doctor can be contacted
directly at: <PhilRosenberg@Prodigy.net>.)
(The HR Doctor was written by Rosenberg, director of Human
Resources, Broward County, Fla.)
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