by Scott Lewis
Electronic communications have become an embedded part of our lives. In most cases, we don’t even think about the process any longer; smartphones and other mobile devices have simply become the norm today.
However — as we are often reminded in the news but may rarely think about — how we use that technology, what we say and to whom could come back to haunt us. In some cases, our employees forget that when they put something in writing, they have created a legal paper trail. What they said or committed to is now basically a legal contract or document that could be enforced in the event of litigation.
Having a clearly defined policy really is a positive step for employees. One of the biggest reasons that companies find themselves in the communication hot seat is that in most cases, the employees simply didn’t understand what was or was not appropriate. This is why you have to think more broadly when developing your policy. A successful communication policy is not about managing an individual process; it is about managing the technology usage of your entire business.
Since developing a communication policy is a true business strategy, you should involve people from all departments, including legal, compliance and information technology. The individuals you select to champion this process should understand guidelines of appropriate use, communication methods, retention policies and the internet usage within your company.
If you intend to put together a communication policy that is going to actually protect you when you need it, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Remove the vagueness.
Action and uses should be clearly defined. Phrases such as “inappropriate” or “prohibited” can sometimes depend on context, which can create confusion with your employees. The basic rule of thumb is to be specific; clearly list out the actions that are prohibited and remember that if you don’t say employees can’t perform some action, then you are leaving it open to interpretation from a legal perspective.
- In some cases, you can make broad statements, such as prohibiting any activity that violates state or federal law or prohibiting sending via email, text or instant message anything that discloses confidential information about your business.
However, keep in mind the specifics, intent and mode of communication of the individual item you are covering in a blanket statement.
- As with any policy, the senior management must be willing to enforce it.
The problem with electronic communication policies is typically the reluctance to enforce them in a consistent manner. These inconsistencies in enforcement can actually create another legal problem if a disgruntled employee pushes the issue. Keep in mind that policies are a necessity today because of high litigation rates, so the policy is the guideline and the teeth of your company. Without it, you’re gumming your food. But a strong policy lets you choose how hard you want to bite when violations occur — just be consistent.
- Although I do believe that all policies should be reviewed by your corporate attorney, I always recommend that they are written in terms that normal people would clearly understand, not legalese.
It is easy to fall victim to someone who signed an agreement but basically didn’t understand the language; in some states, these legalese-filled policies have proved to be unenforceable.
-According to a 2018 ZDNet article, a communication policy should set a standard for appropriate content and include rules for acceptable use and behavior.
It recommends that employees always avoid personal messages and maintain their corporate professionalism. Remember that your employees’ communications represent you and your business, so make sure they know how you want your business represented. The same ZDNet article also states that every company needs a communications policy and that different companies’ requirements for one will be different. Also, because of modern and emerging technologies, these policies are becoming longer and more specific.
Scott Lewis is the president and CEO of Winning Technologies Group of Companies. Scott has more than 30 years of experience in the technology industry and is a nationally recognized speaker and author on technology subjects. He has worked with businesses to empower them to use technology to improve work processes, increase productivity and reduce costs. He has designed thousands of systems for large, medium and small companies, and Winning Technologies’ goal is to work with companies on the selection, implementation, management and support of technology resources. For more information, visit www.winningtech.com or call 877-379-8279.
Submitted 4 years 32 days ago