by Nancy Flynn|
Executive Director, The ePolicy Institute
In the age of eMail, the phrase "Kiss and Tell" has taken on new meaning.
Hit the wrong key after composing an eLove note, and your hot message could
land on the cold screens of your supervisors, colleagues, or customers.
Send a romantic eMail to an indiscreet lover, and your private message
could suddenly become the subject of public ridicule.
Need proof of the dangers of sending eLove notes? Take the case of Claire Swire, a twenty-something British woman who suffered international embarrassment and media scrutiny when boyfriend Bradley Chait opted to forward to friends an eMail in which Swire complimented Chait's performance during a night of passion.
Chait, dubbed "Brad the Cad" by the British press, forwarded Swire's eMail to six friends, along with a message reading, "Now THAT's a nice compliment from a lass, isn't it?" Those six "gentlemen" forwarded Swire's eMail to other readers who in turn sent it to more and more recipients.
Swire's eMail quickly took on a life of its own, traveling first to London's law firms and banks, where the original group of bigmouths were employed. Eventually, Swire's personal message was read by some 10 million strangers in England, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Australia, and the United States.
Media coverage, which included the notorious London tabloids,
The New York Times, and Today, helped drive Swire into hiding. Chait--a lawyer with a prestigious London firm-- and the friends who first sent Swire's eMail into cybercirculation were disciplined for violating their respective employers' eMail policies. There's even a Web site devoted to the fiasco, complete with a "Should Brad Be Fired?" poll.
The ultimate nightmare for eMail users, this is a sobering cautionary tale for anyone who communicates electronically. It raises particular concern for employers who grant employees access to corporate eMail and Internet systems. While individuals who send eLove notes on company time may find themselves embarrassed, disciplined, or unemployed, employers who permit workers to send romantic eMails could land in court.
Fully 27% of Fortune 500 companies have battled sexual harassment claims stemming from employee misuse and abuse of corporate eMail and Internet systems. With 130 million US workers sending 2.8 billion eMails daily, the possibility of employees using company computers to send or forward off-color or otherwise inappropriate eMail messages is huge.
Fortunately, employers can take steps to prevent eDisaster.
Nancy Flynn, executive director of The ePolicy Institute
(www.epolicyinstitute.com) and author of The ePolicy Handbook, recommends employers implement written ePolicies that prohibit sending inappropriate eMail messages, downloading pornographic Internet images, and participating in adult online chat. "Written ePolicies help employers control written content, employee behavior, and eLiabilities," said Flynn. "For responsible organizations operating in the age of electronic communication, an ePolicy is an indispensable business tool."
For employees tempted to send eLove notes in spite of employer prohibitions, The ePolicy Institute offers a few tips:
Beware Hidden Readers. Poor Claire Swire had no idea her intended reader would pass her private message on to unintended, or hidden, readers. If you are trying to keep your relationship quiet, don't use eMail. It's simply not secure. An inaccurate keystroke or your beloved's decision to forward your message could transform your secret relationship into the day's hot gossip. A major headache if your loved one is the boss, a colleague, or a big-time blabbermouth like Brad the Cad.
Write As Though Mom Were Reading. Many people treat eMail too casually, sending electronic messages they'd never express on paper. Play it safe. Don't write anything you wouldn't feel comfortable saying in an elevator crowded with colleagues, customers, and competitors.
Compose Yourself Before Composing Your eMail. No matter how great your passion, think before you write. Shooting Cupid's arrow through cyberspace may be the quickest way to express your love, but it's far from the safest. Once you push send, your eLove note is on its way through cyberspace and probably can't be retrieved.
Keep The End In Sight. Today's perfect romance could turn into tomorrow's battle zone. No matter how much you love and trust your partner, consider the consequences of private eLove notes someday becoming public. Don't write anything that could come back to haunt you. Need convincing? Consider the embarrassing--and very public--eMail messages Monica Lewinsky intended for Linda Tripp's eyes only. That private eMail correspondence recounting Lewinsky's romance with President Bill Clinton played a major role in the public impeachment of a United States president.
The best advice, according to The ePolicy Institute:
1. Employers eager to limit eLiabilities should implement written ePolicies that clearly spell out what is--and is not--allowed to be communicated via the organization's eMail and Internet systems.
In addition, employers should use written ePolicies to give employees explicit notice that they do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Employers should notify employees in writing that the organization has the right to monitor anything that is transmitted or stored on its eMail and Internet systems, and that management intends to exercise that right.
Among the costly problems a written ePolicy can help protect against are workplace lawsuits, productivity loss, wasted talent, fines and imprisonment, public relations nightmares, security breaches, and wasted computer resources.
For free ePolicy samples and help drafting effective ePolicies, employers are encouraged to visit www.epolicyinstitute.com.
2. Employees interested in preserving their professional credibility, personal reputations, and careers should adhere to their organizations' ePolicies or face penalties ranging from disciplinary action to termination.
The ePolicy Institute (www.epolicyinstitute.com) is the leading online source of ePolicy books, forms, content, and training tools. The ePolicy Institute is devoted to helping employers limit eRisks through the development and implementation of effective eMail, Internet, and software policies. For a review copy of The ePolicy Handbook or to interview Nancy Flynn, call 614/451-3200 or eMail Nancy@ePolicyInstitute.com.
2001, Nancy Flynn, Executive Director of The ePolicy Institute
(www.epolicyinstitute.com) and author of The ePolicy Handbook and Writing
Effective E-Mail. Permission to reprint granted, provided the article and author's biographical statement are reproduced as written, in their entirety.