Pitfalls in the Use of Electronic Mail and Voicemail for Business

Employers are increasingly using e-mail to conduct business and to communicate with their employees. E-mail is faster, more convenient and more versatile than facsimile or sending hard copy. Its use has been facilitated by Microsoft, which offers seamless interoffice and Internet coverage, IBM through Lotus notes, and many other commercial service providers, such as AOL. Small businesses and professionals also use e-mail regularly and often.

Companies do business through their executives, professionals, technical, administrative and support employees. Virtually all of these individuals use e-mail and voicemail regularly and routinely use the Internet to collect information, to communicate ideas, and to send and receive information.

Quite obviously, the proliferation of e-mail means that many confidential and sensitive business matters, not to mention personal conversations, take place electronically rather than in writing or over the telephone. These electronic exchanges have the potential of expediting work and interpersonal communications. They also have the potential of inadvertently releasing or revealing confidential information, such as business plans, marketing information or other valuable internal documents. This ease of communication between employees and/or with third parties can subject a company to embarrassment or even legal liability through the dissemination of unauthorized or improper material.

Employees at every level also use the Internet for business endeavors, personal inquiries and pure entertainment. With long, harassing and occasionally boring workdays, employees are often tempted to enter forbidden domains. Not only is there the potential of wasting valuable time, but there is also a danger of passing on offensive material in graphic and/or written form.

These circumstances require an employer to state and internet for business miami¬† ¬†enforce a clear and sensible policy governing electronic communications, confidentiality and employee conduct while engaged in such communications. While the employer’s rights in these areas are quite broad, they are not unlimited. For example, despite a legitimate need to know what key employees are doing and saying electronically, employers do not have an automatic or unlimited right to access to electronically-generated communications. Rather, such access is limited by the Electronic Communication Privacy Act (EPCA), U.S.C. ‘ et seq., which governs unauthorized accessing of e-mail and voicemail that travel by telephone lines. This legislation, along with its state counterparts, imposes criminal penalties and civil liability.

An employer also risks becoming a party to litigation over trade secrets, solicitation of key employees, defamatory references and a host of other situations that arise out of e-mail or voicemail or are memorialized in electronic and computer records. Electronic or other transmission of unprotected information is tantamount to inviting competitors and would be competitors to look at a company’s most important business documents or to solicit valuable employees. A lack of clear policy and enforcement also invites unnecessary or unproductive uses of the time and energy of key employees.

As should be obvious, these modern day perils only underscore the need for every company to have a comprehensive policy to governing employee use of e-mail, facsimile, voice mail and other electronic means. Communication of confidential and sensitive information must be protected, and rules against employee misuse or improper use of e-mail, voicemail and company computers must be clearly specified.

If you have questions or concerns regarding Labor, Employment, or Civil Rights Law, contact us today for a consultation. Our law firm serves clients in the District of Columbia, Maryland and nationwide.

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