Electronic Communications Policy

The Need for an Electronic Communications Policy

The internet and email communication are now the heart and lungs of the any small business in South Africa. With so many companies having open access to their communication systems and so few having home access the abuse of the company systems is very high. For this reason, any small business must have a formal electronic communications policy to avoid abuse of what are essentially work tools.

The benefits of email and internet to small business is well known and for many employees they would not be able to perform their duties without them. When a server or internet connection goes down the frustration caused is very easily felt by both the business and those using company systems for personal things such as online banking, keeping in touch with friends etc. South Africa has a unique situation when it comes to internet use where the cost of home internet is still out of reach for a lot and mobile data is costly. For this reason, business connectivity is a lifeline and finding the balance between this and uninterrupted work can be challenging. To overcome this challenge an Electronic Communications Policy will help.

There will always be employees that abuse or at least take advantage of company communications tools and internet connectivity. Sometimes the abuse is intentional, downloading movies for example and sometimes it is due to a lack of understanding.

Abuse of Email And The Internet

Sending and receiving jokes is not necessarily abuse as long as the jokes and clean and not sensitive in any way. However, these jokes do distract employees from their work and do take up bandwidth and this impacts the business no matter how petty it may seem. A line needs to be drawn to counter this and ensure employees respect the tools they have been given.

The stories of how employees have abused company internet connectivity are never ending and here are just a few examples:

  • A year or two ago the CCMA upheld the dismissal of an employee who received and forwarded racist emails. The email contained a picture of a gorilla with the superimposed head of Robert Mugabe – many people received it, many forwarded it. Maybe you did.
  • In a case from London junior lawyer from well-known law firm forwarded a sexually explicit email that his girlfriend had sent him. The email went around London and it was estimated to have reached about one million people. Disciplinary action was taken against a number of employees and 50 of them were suspended for email abuse.
  • In the United Sates an employee was sacked after it was discovered that the employee had sent 467 personal emails over the course of 40 days. Many of them also contained bad language.

Email and Internet abuse is taken seriously as the abuse reflects on the business or brand in a negative way. Very often employees forget about the consequences of their actions. This is where an Electronic Communication Policy is essential, HRSimplified can assist your small business with this.

Inappropriate Use

Many of us have received angry emails in ALL CAPS. It is very easy to fight back with an equally abusive email. These types of email may seem harmless enough, but they reflect badly on both the sender and the company. Remember, even if you are sending the mail from your email address it is still on the company’s “letterhead” as the domain name belongs to the company.

Email, as with WhatsApp and other messenger services today are not good platforms to resolve conflict. Tone is not communicated, and a hostile situation can be easily created making a mountain out of a molehill.

Despite most companies having up to date data security and anti-virus, hoax emails are still the top way to introduce a virus or a phishing scam. Being aware of fake or hoax emails is essential and rules around internet use help secure a company in this matter. Again, a well drafted Electronic Communication Policy will educate employees about this with a process around how to handle these types of mails as well as fake websites.

An employee might unintentionally enter into a binding detrimental agreement on behalf of the company not realising that it was possible to do so by using email. An employee can easily send a friend proprietary or confidential business information.

The Consequencese

The abuse or inappropriate use of internet, email and other digital communication tools including social media and the indiscriminate monitoring by a company without consent or sacking of employees without taking appropriate steps can have dramatic and serious consequences for the company.
Bad publicity and customer perceptions, potential actions for damages and increased management time wasted to resolve legal disputes are some of the things to consider by not implementing a clear policy on this challenging area of small business management. HRSimplified has the tools to help your small business, find out more HERE

Ways Forward

Implementing a Electronic Communication Policy is not necessarily about playing big brother, an element of trust is essential especially in the unique South African position surrounding internet accessibility.

Implementing a clear written company policy dealing with the use of all electronic communications tools is essential. HRSimplified recognises this requirement and we have included tools in our smart and affordable HR Management system. Find out more HERE.

Small business managers must educate employees on the proper use of and risks involved with email and other communications tools which are provided to them. This can be done through workshop style presentations – in the new year we will be providing some webinars and training videos around this – Subscribe to our Newsletter<.

Finally, we recommend that small businesses use email and Internet monitoring software. However, the privacy rights of employees must be considered. According to South African law no monitoring is allowed until the employees have been informed and their consent has been obtained. Are you currently breaking the law.