In the Press

Yo, Quick e-mail to let you know it was another absolutely abysmal day at work today.

Phone ringing, stupid customers complaining, Old Baldy, the boss, screaming. I'll tell ya, when I lead the coup to take over that idiot's job, heads will roll around this joke of a business.

Well, gotta go babe. Gotta check and see if they changed the picture on the Dorm Cam Internet site I've been monitoring closely. Then it's punch-out time after another day at the office that was practically as unproductive as the one before. Yipppppeeeeee.

See ya, Future Dictator of this Loser Company PEORIA -- Here's some unsolicited advice from some experts in the field: If you've ever tossed off an e-mail from your work computer that remotely resembles the one above, do yourself a favor. Don't click "Send Message. " As the old saying goes, better safe than unemployed.

"People have come to think of e-mail and Internet access at work as a personal right, rather than a privilege offered by their company," said Andy Fograscher, president of Stellar Systems Inc., a Peoria computer consulting company that also sells software that allows businesses to monitor it's workers Internet and e-mail usage.

"But employer's have a right to know about any activity in the workplace that is hurting business for lost productivity or from inappropriate remarks being sent across the Internet that are traceable to the company."

It's impossible to know what the 1990s will be remembered as having, but this much is irrefutable: This decade the computer age grew wings.

Computer technology has expanded into virtually every imaginable business and into the hands of every level of employee. Clerks and receptionists have the same e-mail accounts and access to the Internet as company presidents. The technology is evolving more rapidly than rules and laws can be written to regulate its use.

And that's bringing changes in the workplace as the opportunities to goof-off and tick off the boss have moved from watercoolers and break rooms to those unknowable cyber-regions where Internet sites and traveling e-mails reside.

If you think the e-mail you sent from work to your Grandma Alice about the fears of your anarchic vision of the NATO alliance in a post-nuclear European Union, can be read only by Grandma Alice, you are wrong. She may be the only one remotely interested (grandmothers are valuable that way), but she's not necessarily the only one with access to what, in another age, were private thoughts.

"It all comes down to this," said David Allen, an assistant professor of communications at Illinois State University who specializes in ethics in law. "Whatever concept we once had about what's private and what isn't disappeared long ago. Just about everything we do is being tracked by someone. You need to plan for that reality."

All ethical considerations aside, courts are ruling that employers have the right to monitor personal e-mail sent from work. In the highest profile case so far, Pennsylvania's 1997 Pillsbury vs. Smyth, an employee of Pillsbury was fired for sending e-mail from work that included sarcastic and critical comments about his employer. Smyth sued to get his job back, charging an invasion of his privacy, but a federal court ruled in the company's favor.

"Basically what the courts ruled is that the guy who sent the e-mail had no reasonable expectation of privacy using the company provided e-mail system," said Matt McGowan, a Bradley University business professor who is the author of a study called "Ethical Issues of Electronic Mail in the Workplace." "And that came from a company that had a stated policy that it would not read or intercept an employee's e-mail," he said.

The messages of this story: 1. E-mail at your own risk. And, 2. Assume what you sent can, and will, be read by others.

According to the Wall Street Journal, employees will send more than 60 billion electronic messages per year by the year 2000 through company e-mail systems. Today, an estimated 17 percent of Fortune 1000 companies have software installed that monitors e-mail use, according to International Data Corp., of Framingham, Mass., as reported in PC Week Online. The number of companies that will have either installed the software or seriously considered it jumps to 80 percent by 2001. What should a business do? Messing around on the Internet for non-work purposes and e-mailing the family tree every day obviously reduces an employee's production in an eight-hour workday. But what about the lunch hour? Or break time? What about staying a half-hour later and sending a message to a friend? How is reading a personal e-mail different from listening to employee phone calls? And how about this: Even though the courts have sided with business that it has the right to monitor e-mails, should it? The experts agree, clear rules about Internet and e-mail use need to be written in the meantime.

"Employees need to know what the rules are, and in a best case scenario they should be involved in writing them," Allen said. "If they say `no personal e-mails,' then clearly an employee that knows the policy is taking a chance sending any. If the policy is reasonable use, the employee still needs to be extremely careful with its content."

Allen emphasized the need for reasonableness.

"It's one thing to send the occasional note to Aunt Mary and another to be in a List Serve group that posts Star Trek messages all day long," he said.

McGowan said a business should have solid reasons for installing software that can open and read employee e-mail, the best one being a noticeable loss of productivity in an employee and a suspicion it is related to electronic goofing-off.

"Personally I think the best policy is what a lot of companies, a lot of big companies even, are doing and that's placing total trust in their workforce by not limiting e-mail use and not monitoring it," he said.

Yo, Future Dictator, Three words. Pillsbury vs. Smyth.

OK. Four more.

Clean out your desk.

Old Baldy


Displayed Article

Author: Scott Hilyard
Date: 11/2/1999
Publication: Peoria Journal Star

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