The workers use electronic mail and Internet during working hours each day. The e-mail and Internet use became an integral part of their work and a common tendency of the American workplace. “According to a recent study, over 130 million workers are currently flooding recipients with 2.8 billion e-mail messages each day” (Hawkins, 1999).
The employers provide Internet or email services for their workers in order to facilitate their work both communication with the outside clients and communication inside a company. In addition, e-mail and Internet services increase the efficiency of the workplace so that it is not really expensive to provide, easy to use and, consequently, simple to install.
However, despite the efficiencies listed above, there is the reverse of the medal. In fact, a lot of employees work under the wrong assumption that the Internet use and personal e-mail messages, which were sent from their workplace, are protected against their employer’s control. As a result, there are the laws that regulate employee e-mail and Internet privacy.
Thus, in this paper we are going to discuss and explore the e-mail, Internet use, and privacy policies and to answer the questions about the above-mentioned theme.
To begin with, the concept of “privacy policies” can be viewed from the perspective of three dimensions, such as constitutional rights and liberties, business standpoints and social perspectives. According to this approach it becomes clear when we are speaking about a real conflict of interests of two or more parties. Typically, it arises from a temptation to use private information for a commercial gain or in order to improve competitiveness. That is why privacy policies of organizations, working in the highly competitive and strategically important industries, have strict requirements on non-disclosure of important information and control correspondence and communication with the outside clients in order to prevent a leakage of important information. Usually the working staff is aware of this and either takes it as a reasonable restriction of their freedom, or seeks another job.
It is not superfluous to mention that privacy policies are the legal documents, which describe and divulge some or all of ways a party uses, gathers, manages and discovers data of a customer.
Furthermore, there are the current laws regulating employee e-mail and Internet privacy at the workplace.
Lewis (2000) stated that “employee access to and use of electronic mail and the Internet is increasing at an extraordinary rate. According to one source, U.S. workers currently send more than 1 billion e-mail messages per day. To date, federal and state law regarding the right of private employers to monitor employee use of e-mail and the Internet remains undeveloped and is currently evolving.”
This is a widely-known fact that the employers have a lot of legal circumstances and reasons to monitor their employees’ Internet and email usages, such as:
- Maintenance of the company’s image and professional reputation at the global and regional market;
- Maintenance of the employees’ productivity;
- Prevention and avoidance of sexual harassment or other illegal actions at the workplace;
- Prevention of cyberstalking;
- Prevention of the employees’ disclosure of different trade and commercial secrets and other secrete information; and
- Avoidance of copyright, not legal downloading hardware and software and other different intellectual property rights encroachment.
In addition to the above-stated information, it is necessary to add that there are a lot of companies, which markets e-mail and Internet monitoring services. The implementation of this program will help to record the following information:
- The e-mail receiver;
- The e-mail sender;
- The exact time that the employees spent during reading inbox or outbox e-mails;
- The exact number of words typed in the e-mail;
- The number of different attachments; and
- The exact type of e-mails: business or non-business ones.
The laws that regulate employee e-mail and Internet privacy at the workplace are the following ones:
- The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) that is a federal statute. It regulates the ability of all types of private and government companies or organizations to monitor the wire, oral and electronic conversations and communications of their workers;
- The Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act is a statute that regulates wire, oral and electronic conversations and communications of the employees and is similar to the ECPA.
However, it has more strict consent exclusion that requires all parties to a conversation to permit to monitoring in order to avoid liability.
The companies are more and more relying on the Internet and email services and, consequently, the workers spend a large amount of time using in their work different websites and email in order to manage business. Due to wide access to the Internet, theft of copyright or different another intellectual property, out of place use of different company resources and lost productivity can become a serious problem for any company. That is why a lot of companies implement Internet and email policies in order to solve these problems.
Firstly, Internet or email policies help the employers provide productivity. This is a well-known fact that more than 25% of employees spend more than one hour a day on different websites, which are not related to their particular jobs. With the help of implementing Internet and email use policies, a company is able to prevent its workers from spending their time on different activities that are not related to the job.
Secondly, Internet or email policies help the employers protect from copyright violations and theft. Nowadays, the companies keep their information and other records in electronic format. A lot of workers who work for the company have access to those materials and documents, which can be a good value for the competitors. There are the events when those materials were emailed to some unapproved recipient. This is a huge damage for the company. Moreover, if the computers have become contaminated by a malware, the records and materials could be robbed. Through implementing Internet and email use policies, the company is able to protect its property from illegal access.
Finally, the Internet’s out-of-place use can subject the company to different sexual harassment issues. Many employees view Internet pornography, using the company computers, during normal working time. The workers, who are subjected to out-of-place pictures and images, sometimes even accidentally, have the legal grounds to sue the employer. Besides, the companies can send and receive huge amounts of data during working hours. The cost of that data transfer can be very expensive. It is important to prevent workers from playing online games and listening to music at the workplace. Internet and email policies will help the companies save itself from the above-mentioned risks.
As a result, employees can make different assumptions about their privacy in the workplace. Those policies can negatively affect employee privacy at the workplace. Therefore, workers should have their private communication space during breaks.
To sum up, it is possible to draw a conclusion that in this paper, the e-mail use, internet use, privacy policies, and laws, which regulate employee e-mail and Internet privacy, were discussed and examined. Employee privacy, by its nature, is complex at work. There are a lot of rules and laws that regulate the e-mail and Internet usage at the workplace. The up-to-date technology helps today’s employers regulate and monitor all actions of their employees and control every aspect of the worker’s job.
Dawley, D. D., & William, P. A. (2003). User Perception of E-mail at Work. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 17.2: 170-31.
Hawkins, D. (1999, March 22). Office Politics in the Electronic Age Workplace. U.S. News & World Report.
Lewis, T. (2000, May 22). Pittsburgh Business Times, Monitoring Employee E-Mail: Avoid stalking and Illegal Internet Conduct. Retrieved March 26, 2011, from http://www.pittsburgh.bcentral.com/pittsburgh/stories/2000/05/22/focus6.html