A Corporate Email Policy Can Rein in Bad Behavior

Employees' online activity can threaten your business. A sound policy can help mitigate that risk.

As far as Alan Boyer knows, it happened only once and it will never happen again. He is not eager to share the details, but here are the broad brushstrokes. Some time ago, his employer, Home Interiors & Gifts, a Carrollton, Texas, company that sells home goods through direct sales, was set to announce a major transaction. All the details had been attended to; a press release was in the offing.

Then, before the news could be made public, Boyer, Home Interiors' CIO, discovered something that made his stomach turn: In a casual email, one of the company's 1,200 employees had mentioned the pending deal to a friend. The employee hadn't meant any harm, but Boyer was horrified. He alerted the employee's senior manager. "They were very upset," he recalls.

Fortunately, the damage was contained and the deal proceeded. The employee -- who had signed the company's email policy, which states that employees can send business information only to people who need it to conduct business with the company -- remained employed but was disciplined. "I bet they never send anything out again," Boyer says.

As Home Interiors' big scare illustrates, one of a business' greatest risks in today's digital workplace may just be its employees. Accustomed to whipping off emails to associates and friends, chatting via instant message (IM) while working, or opining on blogs and message boards, employees who don't know when to be discreet can wreak real havoc on employers. The dangers are real: Deals can be destroyed, companies can be sued or fined, and reputations built over decades can topple from a few erroneous keystrokes.

This was first published in July 2006

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