Top Five Email Policy Considerations

To protect from potential lawsuits, businesses are finding it increasingly important to outline a comprehensive email corporate policy governing fair use of the company’s email system. Recently there have been several high profile legal cases demonstrating the impact of misuse of corporate email. When crafting an email policy for any company, be sure to address the areas below.

1. Content
    Outline acceptable email content in the workplace. Specifically, creation or distribution of offensive material (i.e. due to gender bias, racial bias, sexual content, etc.) should be prohibited.

2. Confidentiality & Privacy
    Specifically define corporate information that is acceptable for distribution via email within and outside the company. The policy should also outline privacy expectations for email passed through and stored on company mail servers. In particular, if corporate email is subjected to monitoring, this should be made clear.

3. Retention
    Email is a permanent record of business conversations. Define retention requirements and storage methods for corporate messages. In a highly publicized case, one company was required to search for email on 20,000 backup tapes at a cost of $1,000/tape. Finance, Healthcare, and other regulated industries have very well defined information retention requirements. Everyone else should have specific email deletion requirements.

4. Personal Use
    Several studies have shown that employees spend a significant amount of time using corporate email for personal reasons. Clearly define acceptable personal use of the company’s email system.

5. Abuse
    Outline the impact of ignoring the corporate email policy. Not only describe the effect email misuse could have on the corporation; also define the action that will be taken against employees who violate the policy.

An additional note: Corporate policy is worthless if it is not communicated and enforced. Put procedures in place that document an employee’s understanding of the policy. Provide regular training to remind employees of proper use. Finally, ensure that disciplinary action is taken swiftly if an employee is abusing company email privilege.

Consult with a lawyer versed in electronic communication before finalizing any policy.