Thursday, June 16, 2005

Mike Hitchen: Corporate email policy - every company should have one

Every company should adopt a corporate email policy. Companies are responsible for the actions of their employees, including the content of any emails they send, and there have been a growing number of law suits involving emails sent by irresponsible employees.

An email sent by an employee can make their employer liable in a number of ways. If an employee makes a defamatory statement in an email, the company could be liable. There have been several instances of this both in Australia and UK. This is applicable to both internal and external e-mails.

A few years ago, Norwich Union was fined close to half a million pounds sterling after an employee circulated untrue statements regarding the financial situation of a rival company. A similar case happened in Australia, even though it was more of a practical joke, rather than anything malicious.

Another situation that can arise is accidental breach of confidentiality. If an employee were to receive a confidential mail from someone and by accident forward it to the wrong person, the employee, and therefore the company, could be liable. This is where a disclaimer can come in useful. A simple statement that the email is for the addressee only, and anyone receiving it by mistake is bound to confidentiality, could protect the employer.

It amazes me that for some reason, people think an email is different to a conventional letter. I bet if you had asked the employees at fault in litigation cases, if they would have made the same remarks in a letter, the answer quite likely would have been "no". When it comes to business emails, an old adage still applies. Never put in writing something you wouldn't want read out in court.

For further information contact Mike Hitchen