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E-MAIL: A Blessing or a Curse

E-MAIL: A Blessing or a Curse

Date Published: 2007-05-01

Over the last 30 plus years, many of us have witnessed major technological advances that many of the younger generation take for granted (of course, those of us who remember the advent of the fax machine remember our parents saying the same thing).  Among other technological advances, fax machines, personal computers and e-mail have had a profound impact on all of our lives.  In many ways, each respectively helps to enhance convenience and immediate gratification both professionally and personally.  But, with each technological advance that is achieved there comes additional concerns and challenges.  This article will focus on e-mail.

E-mail usage today in the workplace is ubiquitous.  Being able to send and receive e- mails in a matter of seconds can greatly increase efficiency and productivity when used appropriately.  Generally, a permanent record of the communication is created even though many users still believe that delete means delete – which is not always the case.  A properly trained IT professional, in most cases, will be able to retrieve messages from a computer even though the user has deleted the message from his or her mailbox.  Additionally, many companies use a server which is designed to save automatic back-ups of the e-mail sent and received through a business’ computer server.

Many articles have been written on the topic of e-mail etiquette, e.g. never send an e-mail in all capital letters because it gives the impression to the recipient of the e-mail that he or she is being yelled at by the sender or using e-mail to tell a joke.  E-mail is used best and most efficiently when it is used to communicate information, e.g. dates, times and information which does not have to be discussed to be understood.

In the workplace, the improper use of e-mail by employees and supervisors may cause employee morale problems and lead to employer liability.  Employers should be concerned about how employees (including supervisors and managers) are utilizing e-mail and should develop policies regarding appropriate e-mail usage.  The policy should provide that the company’s e-mail system is for business use and not personal use and that any and all e-mail sent to or from an employee’s computer is the property of and belongs to the company and is subject to inspection and review.  If employees are given personal passwords, it becomes even more important to have a written policy which clearly states that e-mails sent and received through the company’s computer system belong to the company.  Further, the policy should provide for corrective or disciplinary action when it is determined that the company policy has been violated.

E-mail is discoverable and plaintiffs’ attorneys routinely will request that copies of e-mails sent and received by the employee who is suing (plaintiff) be produced.  In a harassment case, the e-mail copies produced often-times prove to be very damaging to the employer’s defense.  Whether copies of e-mails will prove to be helpful or harmful in the defense of an employment matter may very well depend upon what type of policies and procedures regarding e-mail were in effect.  Developing a written policy is only the initial step that an employer should take.  Once written, the policy needs to be implemented and the employees need to be given training periodically.  Employees come and go which means that new employees probably missed sitting in on a training session given last year.

A note to the reader: This article is intended to provide general information and is not intended to be a substitute for competent legal advice. This article has been reprinted with the permission of Lee Building Industry Association,www.bia.net.

Questions regarding the content of this column or past columns may be emailed to Christina Harris Schwinn at christinaschwinn@paveselaw.com. Ms. Schwinn is an attorney with the Pavese Law Firm, 1833 Hendry Street, Ft. Myers, FL 33901; (239) 332-2195; fax (239) 332-2243.