WMU News

Companies cracking down on offensive e-mail

Aug. 18, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- Dow Chemical Co.'s recent crackdown on employees sending offensive e-mail illustrates a growing problem with employee use of computers and the Internet. Employees should not to be lulled into a false sense of security, says Dr. Joseph Kayany, a WMU assistant professor of communication.

"I think many of the cases we have seen so far are due partly to ignorance," Kayany says. "The employees assumed that their e-mails were private. Their accounts were protected by user I.D.s and passwords and so they just assumed that it was private. It was never made clear to them that it was not private."

Kayany says companies should develop a policy on sending offensive e-mail if they haven't done so already and should make the policy clear to all employees. Several court cases have upheld a company's right to fire an employee for sending inappropriate e-mail in part because companies can be held liable for creating a hostile working environment, Kayany says.

Companies also have to be careful about what employees do while they are on the Internet.

"What if an employee downloads software that is copyrighted?" Kayany asks. "Or an employee commits fraud? There also is another question of the work environment. Companies are supposed to guarantee a work environment that is free of sexual harassment and discrimination. If employees use the company e-mail to sexually harass people, is the company not liable? These are all arguments that the companies make. And the courts agree with that."

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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