One area of increasing focus in the workplace is the use of the Internet and Email by employees. Many employees consider web-browsing and emails as private because of password protection.
Without proper guidelines which articulate employees' business interests,employee conduct and privacy rights, the proper use of email and web browsing may never be clear.
It is important that employers have in place an email and Internet usage policy to make it clear what is acceptable and, more importantly, what is not acceptable.
Recent decisions in both the State and Federal jurisdictions demonstrate claims by employees where they felt they were unfairly dismissed from their employment because of their abuse or mis-use of the Internet or emails. The following must be present for an employer to legally discipline an employee:
existence of a policy;
communication of that policy to the employee;
clear guidelines within the policy about what is acceptable and more particularly what is not; and,
consistent treatment of employees in responding to a breach.
The need to have a specific policy not only assists an employer to justify their actions in disciplining or dismissing an employee, but also informs the employee of what is private and what is not.
Important points for employers:
The mere receipt by an employee of unsolicited offensive material will not usually amount to inappropriate behaviour unless the employee forwards the email to other persons.
If several people have access to the one computer it will be difficult for an employer to allege that the material is attributable to one particular employee.
Not all breaches of the policy will justify the termination of an employee. A warning or counselling may be appropriate.
The more input a person has into the making of company policies, the greater the person's responsibility.
This Information Outline is provided courtesy of Matthews Folbigg who are experienced in this area of law. They are located at Level 7 The Barrington, 10-14 Smith Street, Parramatta NSW 2124 or call them on (02) 9635-7966 if you would like more information on this legal topic, or you wish to obtain formal advice regarding your situation.
MatthewsFolbigg is a large commercial law firm based in Parramatta, New South Wales. The firm has Accredited Specialists in Business Law, Property,Immigration, Family Law and Personal Injury. MatthewsFolbigg has specialist groups advising clients in corporate structures, intellectual property, and information technology plus franchising, estate planning and insolvency work.