Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Guess Who Is Watching You

For years people have argued about the right to privacy in the work place. In particular, the debate was often whether email was subject to privacy laws or belonged to the company. The view in this country has generally made it acceptable for companies to monitor email content while other countries have taken a different view.

With the advent of so many new electronic channels of communication from text to twitter and all the social and business networks, this debate is going to broaden.

According to a recent HBR article, the responsibility to police all of this digital activity is increasingly falling on the CIO. When concerns are raised by management, the CIO is often the person they engage to scan employee messaging, Twitter accounts, blogs or on-line community chat boards. Using readily available tools and techniques, the CIO can assemble a picture of how employees are portraying their company, coworkers, management and perhaps even customers.

The CIO will generally have the knowledge and ability to collect, analyze and present findings for management. However, approval for these actions should be sought from both Legal and Human Resource professionals before putting yourself and the company at risk. What is permissible can be especially complicated in a multinational environment where legality may depend on where the data lies or the employee resides or both.

My advice is to be proactive. The company must be clear about what is and is not acceptable behavior on the part of an employee. It should publish these guidelines in an employee handbook as well as conduct periodic training sessions. Once the rules have been clearly defined and communicated, employees are on notice the company will take action if violations are discovered. Knowing where you draw the line will make people less likely to cross it.

The company should further state they will respect individual freedom of expression and right to privacy, but retain the right to investigate any and all digital content generated using the resources owned or provided by the company. Moreover, the consequences for any violation should be commensurate with the offense and must be applied quickly and evenly.

This cuts both ways. Employees should think long and hard before posting content in any public forum that might be construed by the company as insulting, derogatory, defamatory or otherwise socially unacceptable or even unlawful. Whether the company has the right to search and find this content or not is less important than what may happen if it is discovered. It could turn out to be a career limiting move.

This is truly a case where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and one should definitely look before you leap.

Captain Joe

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