Companies are still unaware of the legal implications of their staff's email practices and need effective policies to monitor and manage them, according to a leading City law firm.
Jo Plumstead, senior solicitor at litigation practice Kennedy's Solicitors, warned that careless emails could cost companies money and their reputations.
"Quite apart from lost time spent on personal email, thoughtless use can expose an employer to claims by employees for sexual or racial harassment or constructive dismissal, and by outside organisations for defamation or breach of contract," she said.
Plumstead added that internal email communications are usually disclosable in any type of legal proceedings, stressing the importance of policies on internal emails.
"Many a defence has been undermined when a few ill-chosen words come to light. Clear policies, well communicated and backed up with a monitoring system which complies with the law on data protection, are absolutely essential," she concluded.
Steve Davis, professional services consultant for managed secure communications specialist Tumbleweed, explained that protection has to begin with a policy.
"At the moment, a low number of companies have a policy in place regarding email. You just have to look at how quickly viruses spread to see how companies are still neglecting security in general," he said. "The policy should complement the existing security policy, and staff have to be informed about it to make it effective."
Tumbleweed develops email filters to protect companies from irresponsible email use and the loss of sensitive information.
In January of this year, employees at law firm Norton Rose were suspended for spreading a now infamous email from former colleague Claire Swire.
Davis pointed out that privacy was an issue which firms tend to overlook. "I know of no cases of companies snooping on employees, but businesses do want to protect themselves from the leak of confidential information or offensive material," he said.
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