Staff abuse trust on e-mails

More than 60 per cent of e-mail correspondence by employees is for personal
use, claims research released last week.

The study of 40 large organisations covering 40,000 employees, by consultant
Peapod, adds to mounting evidence that employers’ business systems are being
abused. E-mail monitoring is covered by the Data Protection Act (1998) which
came into force in October last year, but employers are still waiting for the
Information Commission’s guidance on how this should be interpreted

David Smith, deputy information commissioner, told Personnel Today the code
will not be available for a "couple of months". Last June, the
Information Commission promised to clarify contradictions between the
Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the draft Data Protection Code
before 2002.

It indicated that employers will have to prove a strong business case to
justify the monitoring of e-mail and Internet use by staff.

The Peapod research discovered staff e-mails included pornographic material
as well as messages with defamatory and harassing comments.

Commenting on the findings, Diane Sinclair, employee relations adviser with the
CIPD, said until the position is clearly defined by the Information Commission,
employers should be open about where they are looking. They should only monitor
when they are confident a case can be defended, she said.

Smith warned companies to only monitor and investigate staff when they have
evidence or strongly suspect a problem. He said: "I find it very hard to
believe that any more than a small proportion of e-mails are potentially
damaging to a firm.

"When companies are deciding on a policy they need to make a decision
on what is actually dangerous to the business and if monitoring is

By Ross Wigham

Data Protection Act

When can employers monitor staff?

Employers must:

– Establish a specific business purpose

– Assess impact on privacy, autonomy and other staff rights

– Consult trade unions or employee representatives

– Adopt another method if possible

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