This situation is becoming so serious that employers must consider implementing a policy/procedure, outlawing abusive practices.

Draft Electronic Transmissions Policy

1. E-mail should be used primarily to distribute/update information, confirm arrangements, confirm meetings etc. [It may not be used to distribute personal information.]

2. As an exception, the system can be used to leave messages where the recipient is unavailable and the message awaits their return.

3. E-mail should not be used to substitute for face-to-face or telephone conversations since messages they convey lose much that is conveyed by body language. The medium is comparatively ineffective in this area. Research indicates that people reach the best decisions when they occupy adjacent physical space - using e-mail blanks off this advantage.

4. Unless video and audio links are available, electronic communications should not be used for meetings or managerial control. (See 3 above.)

5. Items for dissemination via e-mail should be checked after drafting for clarity, accuracy of message and absence of abusive, emotive, etc. words. The language used must be consistent with conventional standards, decency and respect for others, and good manners.

6. Commenting on or about another person or body should be avoided but, if it is unavoidable (i.e. it is a necessary part of the information under consideration), should only be based on and backed up by facts (failure to have available a factual basis for such items could lead to a libel action)

7. On no account should the internal or external system be used for vindictive, harassing, discriminatory or abusive comment or criticism of anyone, whether this is the target, another employee or any third party. Further, it must not be used for electronic stalking.

8. A person receiving an item which they feel should have been prohibited by items 5 or 7 above should notify [name].

9. Any person proved to have deliberately sent an item prohibited by item 5 or 7 above and/or item 14 below may be deemed guilty of gross misconduct and can be dealt with under the disciplinary procedure accordingly. Some of these offences also breach criminal law and can be made subject to sanctions including imprisonment.

10. All messages etc., should be clear and unambiguous and coded from 5 star to 0 star in order of priority (in accordance with the priorities of the recipient rather than those of the sender). Since clarity is preferable to brevity jargon should be avoided unless the sender is absolutely certain that the recipients will understand it.

11. An e-mail message should be treated as if it were a hard copy letter and drafted and checked in the same way. In law, an e-mail message has the same value as a hard copy letter. All e-mails can be recaptured in hard copy.

12. No e-mail message or response to an e-mail message should ever be sent in haste, anger or hostility. Ideally, a time for consideration should elapse between drafting and sending a reply.

13. No e-mail or other communication containing a virus or equivalent damaging content, may be sent internally or externally. No electronic device capable of receiving e-mails or other communication from external sources, may be used without being virus protected.

14. Access to the Internet is for the purposes of the employer's business only and such access must not be used for an individual's requirements whether personal or on behalf of another. Failure to comply with this will be regarded as gross misconduct.

15. [Alternatively: Access to the Internet for personal purposes is permitted only (for example, i.e. outside working hours) before 8.30 a.m. and after 5.30 p.m. On no account must any data or information so derived be used in or passed round the Organisation in any way whatsoever without the written permission of [name].]

16. All communications including e-mail, faxes, telephone conversations etc. generated and/or received by employees may be monitored by the company as is allowed under the contract of employment. Where private business is to be transacted employees can use the payphones provided. These phones are not monitored.

17. Personal mobile phones may not be used at the workplace and must be switched off during working hours. They can be switched on and used during recognised breaks provided this can be effected without causing any dislocation to the computers and other property and procedures of the company. If incoming urgent messages are required to be made other than at times of breaks, these should be left with the switchboard operator who will pass messages to employees. Where the matter is urgent an employee may use their own phone or a payphone to return the call, subject to gaining permission from their supervisor or manager to leave their place of work.

18. On no account may any Organisation information, stored in any electronic data or other system (including purely for example, computer aided design work), be copied or removed (including by electronic transfer) from the premises of the Organisation without prior written permission of [name].

19. The company websites are the sole property of the company and any unauthorised interference with, or copying and variation of such websites is not only gross misconduct but also can generate an action for damages.

20. On no account must an employee in receipt of a personal incoming e-mail distribute such material internally or externally without specific prior permission from (designated person).

21. For security reasons and to prevent fraud, covert monitoring may take place both on an off company premises.

22. Persons undertaking job-sharing will be allowed access to their partners electronic and other transmissions

23. If using the 'out of office' facility no personal details (address, phone number, date of return) should be stated to prevent hackers obtaining such information from this source.

24. Before using the system employees will be required to type 'YES' in answer to a screen prompt 'Are you aware of the [organisation] Electronic Transmissions policy and that breach of the requirements is gross misconduct' before they can proceed.

25. Breach of this policy is gross misconduct.

Note 1. Advising users that e-mails can be recovered in hard copy form for up to two years and can be made subject to legal disclosure rules, may encourage users to think more carefully of their message content.

2. There is evidence that hackers finding a message referred to in Clause 22 and knowing the employee is away for some time, find their private address and then burgle the employee's house.

3. If the employer wishes to be able to monitor all messages (e.g. telephonic, electronic and hard copy) a suitable clause must be inserted in the Contract of Employment, so that the employee effectively 'grants permission' for such monitoring.

Example of Eavesdropping Clause
1. The employer provides electronic transmission systems for the purposes of its business during normal working hours only. Employees will be expected to operate such systems from time to time and it is a basic rule that in working hours such access must be only for the employer's business purposes.

2. Monitoring devices are installed and e-mails, as well as faxes, letters and telephone calls may be checked to ensure that only the employer's business is being transacted and that this is being conducted in an acceptable way using reasonable language, etc. A pay phone is provided as [specify] and communications via this phone are not monitored.

3. It is a contractual requirement that employees agree to such monitoring. As a concession (which the employer reserves the right to withdraw at any time and without notice) employees will be allowed access to the Internet for personal purposes outside normal working hours, providing this is at no expense to the employer, that no embarrassment or damage would be caused to the employer should details of the material accessed be widely known, and that no material thereby derived is disseminated internally, or to any shareholder, customer, agent or supplier in any way whatsoever without prior written approval from [name].

Implementation of Clause
Many would regard taking the right to eavesdrop as a material change to the contract. In order to make it effective, ideally full consultation and communication should take place, explaining all the problems and that its purpose is to protect the employees and the employer (since if unsuitable material is passed to an employee who has no wish to see such material they could sue the employer for failing to provide them with a 'safe place of work'). If this is impossible the clause could be brought into being by the employer:

a. providing the maximum notice to bring the contract to an end (e.g. 12 weeks statutory notice unless the contract provides more notice.)

b. stipulating that a new contract with the clause inserted applies from the end of the notice period.

c. confirming that all rights and service etc under the previous contract apply to the new and that there is continuous employment.

d. stating that if the employee works after the termination date they will be deemed to have accepted the new contract (i.e. the 'old' contract with the addition of the eavesdropping clause).