Workplace Investigations & Email

We’ve seen the TV shows and movies where a computer forensics expert uncovers some super secret electronic file or finds the files that “were deleted.”    Oftentimes, uncovering electronic communications that show workplace misconduct do not require such an expert, rather just a quick search of the email server.

Employers that routinely allow (or expect) employees to be available or to communicate via email should evaluate whether workplace policies are clear about the expectations on how employer-provided email is used, not only to be sure that the employer complies with all laws, but also to ensure that the availability of the email account is not abused.

Oftentimes, employees will use employer-provided email accounts for personal or for matters unrelated to work.   While a personal email here or there may not be problematic, the mass forwarding of jokes, cartoons, videos, and more can be problematic from a cost perspective, as well as a workplace management perspective.

For employers who have limited server space for email, frequent emails of jokes and more throughout segments of the workforce simply “takes up space.”   Talk to your IT department or consultant – with an election year coming up, there frequently is a spike in “editorial emails” that can cause issues or all-out problems.  Learning that there is a need for “another server” when the problem is “social not-working” can be a real dollar saver.

As a workplace management issue, emailing jokes, videos, and more is generally not professional and decreases productivity.   What is worse is that many times, these “joke” emails are ones that may only be funny based upon stereotypes of certain races, sexes, etc.   When those forms of humor are passed around a workplace, they may offend an employee, causes a decrease in morale.  Worse yet, the email is blown-up in front of a jury as evidence that the manager who sent it really does harbor racist, sexist, or other unlawful animus.   The problem is prevalent and often makes the news.

For employers with complaint policies regarding discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation, investigations of such complaints now involve review of email accounts, if not also review of other electronic records of cell phone calls, IMs, text messages, voice mail messages, and more.  Indeed, Human Resources professionals are going to these electronic records of communications even before talking to the individuals themselves.  Why?  Because what is captured in these electronic records are often much more objective measures and very indicative of feelings, beliefs, and misunderstandings than memories.



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