Does your company have a standardized e-mail policy? If you have to stop and think about it, then it’s probably safe to assume that, if there is one, it’s not strictly enforced. And that could be a problem – especially if your company has had layoffs recently, which can open the door to wrongful termination lawsuits from ex-employees.
That’s the reality an HR professional who wrote into this recent “Ask Annie” column is facing: The company where the manager works is being sued by an ex-employee, whose lawyers are demanding that management turn over its e-mails as part of the discovery investigation, which “has got the whole place in an uproar.”
That’s not hard to understand – after all, would you want strangers going through all of your emails? The individuals being investigated probably feel that their privacy being violated, which is understandable, but unfortunately, not true – something that I think too many of us tend to forget.
Today, emails and even text messages are fair game for lawyers to collect as evidence, and even seemingly harmless messages can prove damning. Just ask former Florida Representative Tom Foley, former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (who helped bring “sexting” into the national lexicon), and former FEMA director Michael Brown, among other big names who infamously saw e-mail come back to haunt them.
Now is an opportune time to revisit – and likely revise – that office e-mail policy. Make sure the rest of your staff is aware of it, as well.
- Remind them that anything they put in e-mail – no matter how harmless they may think it is – can be used as evidence against them or the company at a later time.
- An effective question to have the staff ask themselves is, “Would I be comfortable taking any three emails I’ve sent or received, printing them out, and posting them in the break room for a week?”
- Going forward, encourage them to follow this general guideline: Don’t put anything in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want your mother, a Wall Street Journal reporter, and 12 members of a jury to read.
Hopefully, you don’t have anything to worry about (although the “Ask Annie” writer probably thought the same thing once…), but for more tips on creating an effective e-mail policy, read the rest of the BusinessWeek article.
What about you? Do you know the details of your company’s e-mail policy? How well do people follow it?