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Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

A sample E-mail and Voice-mail policy

(with CPSR's suggestions for improvement)

Contributed by the CPSR Portland Chapter.
These policies were created and used by a large, prominent Oregon CAD Company. 

See the paper: Email, Voicemail, and Privacy: What Policy is Ethical? by Marsha Woodbury.
See our brief comments on the policy
See Labor Union comments on the policy
See another comment: Email messages ARE organizational records!

The following is a standard policy on Electronic-Mail (E-mail), and Voice-Mail (V-mail) communications. It is intended to serve as a reference for companies to establish policies of their own. This is an authentic operational document that, even with its flaws, has served its company well:

Sample Electronic-Mail and Voice-Mail Use Guideline

E-mail and V-mail are corporate assets and critical components of communication systems. The E-mail and V-mail systems are provided by the company for employees to facilitate the performance of company work and their contents are the property of . Although the company does not make a practice of monitoring these systems, management reserves the right to retrieve the contents for legitimate reasons, such as to find lost messages, to comply with investigations of wrongful acts or to recover from system failure.

Personal use of E-mail or V-mail by employees is allowable but should not interfere with or conflict with business use. Employees should exercise good judgment regarding the reasonableness of personal use. A junkmail group and other ad-hoc mail groups are available for employees to exchange information or post personal notices (i.e. "for sale", "for rent", "looking to buy", etc.). Employees may sell items or post messages on junkmail or other ad-hoc mail groups as long as they do not violate the law or company policies.

Use of E-mail and V-mail is limited to employees and authorized vendors, temporaries, or contractors. Employees and authorized users are responsible to maintain the security of their account and their password. They should change their password quarterly and take precautions to prevent unauthorized access to their mailbox by logging off when possible if their terminal is unattended. (Unauthorized entry to an individual's account or mailbox poses system security issues for other users.) E-mail and V-mail passwords should be at least 6 alphanumeric characters including at least one numeric character for E-mail.

Efficient Usage

Efficient use of the E-mail and V-mail systems suggests that messages should be concise and directed to individuals with an interest or need to know. General notice bulletins may be sent to public groups, news groups local to , junk mail, or specific work groups. Standards for global mailings can be found in (some location)

V-mail messages which have been read will expire after 7 days. This is a limitation of the disk storage capacity of the voicemail system.

Misuses of Electronic-mail and Voice-mail Misuse of E-mail/V-mail can result in disciplinary action up to and including termination. Examples of misuse includes the following:

  • prohibits obscene, profane or offensive material from being transmitted over any company communication system. This includes, for example, accessing erotic materials via news groups. Also, messages, jokes, or forms which violate our harassment policy or create an intimidating or hostile work environment are prohibited.
  • Use of company communications systems to set up personal businesses or send chain letters is prohibited.
  • Company confidential messages should be distributed to personnel only. Forwarding to locations outside is prohibited.
  • Accessing copyrighted information in a way that violates the copyright is prohibited.
  • Breaking into the system or unauthorized use of a password/mailbox is prohibited.
  • Broadcasting unsolicited personal views on social, political, religious or other non-business related matters is prohibited.
  • Solicitation to buy or sell goods or services is prohibited except on junkmail or ad-hoc mail groups.
Responsibility for this policy:

The Information Systems department is responsible to ensure the efficient use of systems according to this policy. Where issues arise, I.S. will deal directly with the employee (and notify their manager where appropriate). The interpretation of appropriate use and future revisions of this policy are the responsibility of the Communications Steering Committee (VP. HR, General Counsel, I.S. Director). 

CPSR Comments:

Submitted by David Levinger and Carl Page
(1) The level of email monitoring should be made clear. There ought to be a statement that email will not be monitored or reviewed for the purposes of enforcing managerial authority. Not all companies will want this policy, but CPSR should urge companies to include a strong position in their statement. (A prohibition won't be possible for companies that do customer service via email where monitoring is a part of the employee training and evaluation process. When email is a person's job it is appropriate for their management to evaluate the quality of their work.)

(2) The language of "efficiency" is distasteful--CPSR would like to see companies orienting their policy to more human values and individual rights. Communications via e-mail or v-mail should not burden the receiver inappropriately or unnecessarily, but this brevity is as much courtesy as it is efficient.

(3) Proper disclaimers on external postings are important. 

Labor Union Comments

Submitted by Gary E. Schoenfeldt President CEP Local 911, One Research Drive, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Very interesting, however, prohibitions against political opinions should be amended to allow for messages of interest to the members of a unionized workforce.

As long as corporations recognize the rights of workers to organize, there will be a justification for those union members to collectively discuss and review those items that are of concern to them.

Because unions legally provide a single point of contact between corporations and their workers, for the purpose of determining wages, working conditions and so forth, any attempt to stifle communication between unionized workers would have the same effect as interfering in the internal affairs of a client or a supplier. In this case, there is a often a group that uses corporate computing equipment and networks with the same or more amount of freedom than that corporation's clients. These people, the unionized employees of the corpotation, must be permitted to communicate freely.

Anything less would be seen, by union people, as an unnatural attempt at coersion at best, censorship at worst. In my place of employ, the unionized workers have an internal newsgroup with 350 participants that regularly discusses politics, corporate policy as it affects us and other items of interest to our union members. We also, as employees of one of the largest computing services in the world, adhere to a well-established corporate policy, where that policy is not in violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement we have with our corporation.

As our corporation grows - we are at 3000 employees nationwide, with only about 500 of them unionized - and taking into account that our owner has many tens of thousands of nonunionized employees worldwide, our democratic rights to unfettered association are being threatened on all sides by policies such as have been proposed here.

It is necessary to guard a corporation's assets and secrets and to ensure that people are working when they are supposed to be, but it must be remembered that corporations do not own us, and to attempt to control our ideas is a folly that no amount of persuasion logical or otherwize, will be accepted by employees who feel they ought to be able to freely express their opinions about their employer with their fellows.

Some may say that this type of communication must be conducted after hours using other equipment. This type of thinking would also ban certain items from bulletin boards (the kind that hang on walls). I feel that I have taken up enough of your time that it would be rude of me to debate the pros and cons of workplace democracy.

The fact remains, though, that human nature tends to make us suspicious and resentful towards those who rule with legislation aimed at stifling dissent. (ie. the late, not lamented, Soviet Union) Corporations with any sense will realize this and learn to live with and encourage dissent. The alternative is a dissaffected workforce that will carry on discussions outside of work that may not be as agreeable to the corporation or as mindful of what harm could befall the corporation's reputation.

This type of situation is developing in many workplaces, as a natural response to corporate attempts to control what their "Resources" (people) are thinking. New alternative media, such as may be found on the internet, as well as many small magazines and newsletters, are appearing as fast as these types of policies are initiated. Feb. 21, 1997

See another comment: Email messages ARE organizational records! 

Updated by Marsha Woodbury on Nov. 11,1998.

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