Current laws and regulations regarding e-mail use and privacy vary state to state and focus on verified consent. Since it is a state matter, the laws vary slightly within each state. While the company does technically own all of the data and communication that is conducted internally, the employee must provide written consent that their data can be intercepted at any time (Legislature 2008). Failure to do so would result in potential legal action against the company. It is also important to note that these laws are also subject to constant change. As technology evolves quickly and the way we communicate progresses, so do the laws. For instance, with the emergence of social networking many companies have taken an active effort in prohibiting personal use at the workplace. Employees are always subject to their IT staff going through their browsing history and such.
The laws also focus on protecting individual privacy. As with any electronic media, end users are not always aware of how their information is stored, what it is used for or how easily accessible it is. That is precisely why states like California make it mandatory to formally train employees on what constitutes fair use and such. However, it is ultimately up to the company to implement these policies and make sure that employees are aware of the consequences of their actions.
Companies implement and use policies in order to protect sensitive company information and avoid security issues. For instance, if someone works for a brokerage firm where clients invest money and have personal financial data, it would put the company at risk if an employee were to give that out. Again, the policies are intended to reduce potential liability and damages that the company would have to face if anything were to happen. This stems from protective measures against cases in the past where companies were utterly destroyed for security breaches.
Privacy policies are also in place to make sure that employees do not waste time while on the job. For example, if an employee has full internet access to any page on the web, then it is in the best interest of the company that the employee works and does not do personal tasks like online shopping, social media or other non-productive tasks. The only way this can be monitored is through proper enforcement. It is used a means to ensure that employees only use the internet and e-mail for “normal conduct of business” (Caragozian 2000). While these measures do not entirely guarantee that an employee will be productive, they do nonetheless enforce the notion that it is a serious penalty if the technology provided was being misused. After all, employees should be only doing work while at work because it fits in with their job description.
Finally, companies use privacy policies and measures to protect the employees as well. Often times, there are situations in which individual employees can be held liable for electronic communication and such. In such instances, any breach of contract on the employee’s behalf may or may not be defended by the company. If the employee abided by all of the protective policies and measures in place, then any arguments of negligence or improper training can be avoided. This can offer an added level of legal protection for the company and individual as well as foster strong business decorum. As long as employees abide by the fair use policies within the company sanctions, they can be protected under the corporate veil and they cannot be personally sued for their own assets. Ultimately, while privacy policies regarding internet use and email are intended to protect the company primarily, there are some benefits to the individual employee.
To effectively communicate all of this information, companies have taken active efforts with training and other measures. For employees that are not tech savvy or do not fully understand what electronic communication entails, employees may assume that what they are doing is not against company policies. Consequently, employees may fall under the duress of being criticized for not knowing the sanctions that the company has put in place. That is precisely why many companies have made it a priority to ensure that employees are well aware of what they are dealing with when it comes to online communication, fair use and privacy.
Legislature. (2008). CA Codes (gov:11000-11019.10). Official California Legislative Information. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=gov&group=10001-11000&file=11000-11019.10
Caragozian, J. (2000, January 1). Privacy Rights of Employees Using Workplace Computers in California. Privacy Rights. Retrieved September 13, 2011, from https://www.privacyrights.org/ar/employees-rights.htm