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Acceptable Use Policies and Legality

As technology becomes increasingly pervasive in daily aspects of most company workings, many employers have, wisely, taken it upon themselves to provide their employees with acceptable use policies in order to set guidelines for internet use in the office.  Acceptable use policies can serve as a useful tool to help employees recognize which online activities are permissible to perform at work, and which are not.  Furthermore, acceptable use policies protect companies from risks including virus attacks, compromise of network systems and services, and legal issues.  (www.sans.org)

Generally, most company acceptable use policies stipulate that only internet performances necessary and pertinent to employees’ jobs should be exercised at work.  The meaning of this likely varies from employee to employee based on job description and duty, however some online activities can be effectively prohibited for all employees in a business setting.  Examples of this could be personal social media use (in most cases,) unauthorized disclosure of company information, unauthorized copying of copyrighted material (e.g. pirating online materials such as music,) revealing personal account information of a company server to a family member or friend, in order to allow them to gain access to the account, or using the internet to engage in any clearly impermissible activity at work, (e.g. sexual harassment violations, intentionally interfering with the server’s host, providing information about company dealings, or company lists).

While most of these violations seem self-evident, spelling them out in a an acceptable use policy can limit, and ideally eliminate, confusion and questionability when it comes to internet use at work.  Additionally, reminders that employees represent the company when they partake in correspondence or share information from work, can serve as a valuable reminder to communicate in a way that represents the company in its best light, and maintain a professional demeanor and tone in every work action, whether it seems like a formal or casual communication.  During my time interning in the legal department of the City of Cincinnati HR, the City ran into several legality issues concerning public servants posting personal opinions in public capacities on and off the clock.  Private employers are susceptible to the same risk if employees post from personal accounts while at work, and can even run the risk of having company accounts becoming compromised in the case of accidental posts from work.

Finally, many acceptable use policies prohibit the sending of unsolicited email messages, or “junk mail,” the definition of which could range from personal email use to, seemingly silly, chain emails.  Emails such as these can not only clutter up work inboxes and take away from office productivity, but can contain harmful viruses or inadvertently offensive content.

-Marisah Ali