Senior managers’ commitment is essential to introducing an e-mail and Internet policy, the conference heard.
Top-level cooperation is vital as an example to staff, Eversheds lawyer Debbie Jones said. But she warned that it is a difficult task keeping tabs on what senior managers are downloading or sending from behind their closed office door, and they might not accept the same restrictions apply to them as other staff.
"If you are asking people to restrict their use of the Internet or e-mail but you have senior people pulling down jokes, or worse, and sending them around the building, the example to the staff will not be there," she said.
She suggested the best way to get them on board is to ask them to act as role models.
Companies without an e-mail and Internet policy are leaving themselves open to a myriad of claims, such as sexual and racial harassment, defamation, breach of confidentiality and breach of contract, delegates were told.
Companies could be breaching the Data Protection Act if personal information is not secure and the Obscene Publications Act if pornography is downloaded.
"E-mail and the Internet is merely another form of communication and companies need to extend their harassment policies to include them," said lawyer Vanessa Chamberlain.
Jones added that if e-mails are to be monitored, then staff must be told. "Tribunals take a dim view of monitoring but if you are honest about it then you are in a strong position," she said.