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When Cyberloafers Can Put You in Legal Danger

December 1, 1996
Related Topics: Technology and the Law, Featured Article, Technology
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Too often, HR managers rely on management information systems (MIS) to set up operating procedures as new technologies emerge. But if MIS staff fail to work with HR and discuss the potential pitfalls created by the Internet, legal liability issues may surface unexpectedly.

For example, unless your company is a publisher of pornography, it's unlikely that employees will have any legitimate business justification to download, transmit or possess digitized images of Playboy's December bunny. But some cyberloafers will. The Internet provides access to many such sites, from which employees can load images onto their computers.

One risk is that they may broadcast or electronically "pin up" such materials at work. As a result, offended employees may have the basis for a charge of sexual harassment. Likewise, some employees may use e-mail to transmit messages that contain profanity and sexual references, jokes and comments. In fact, the seeming informality of e-mail can fool people into believing such messages are harmless. Not so.

Your company can minimize a potential lawsuit by adopting these rules:

  • Prohibit the downloading, transmission and possession of pornographic, profane or sexually explicit materials.
  • Modify existing sexual harassment and discrimination policies to cover all electronic communications and data.
  • Consider having MIS install technical filters to prohibit inappropriate content in e-mail and other digitized files, as well as access to inappropriate sites on the Internet.

If HR staffers and other employees use e-mail to communicate information about current or former employees, you may also need to reinforce or update other related procedures as well. Be proactive.

By taking such precautions, HR can worry less about court battles and get on with the business of worker productivity.

SOURCE: Barry D. Weiss, partner at Gordon & Glickson P.C. in Chicago.

Personnel Journal, December 1996, Vol. 75, No. 12, p. 58.

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