Keep Work Email Strictly Business (Not Personal) in Business and at Work

It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.

– Michael Corleone, The Godfather.

Last week was an interesting week for news about employee use of company email.

Consistent with earlier National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rulings on how employers may (or may not) set boundaries on what’s posted on company bulletin boards without violating employees’ rights to organize a union, the NLRB last week extended their reach to company email systems:

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a victory for unions, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Thursday that employees can use their company email accounts for union organizing and other workplace-related purposes, if they do it on their own time.

Once an employer gives an employee access to the company email system, then the business cannot restrict what the employee emails, so long as it is generally workplace-related and isn’t during working hours, the NLRB ruled. The NLRB is a government agency that investigates unfair labor practices.

In its ruling last week, the Board predicted that it would consider a total ban on non-business email use during non-working time to be lawful only in a “rare case.” Clearly, employers will need to review and update their electronic communications policies in the wake of this new ruling.

Perhaps a total ban on non-business email use would have helped protect the reputations of Sony Pictures Entertainment executives when they shared their personal views on their colleagues and government leaders via their company email accounts:

Oscar-winning producer Scott Rudin apologized Thursday for calling Angelina Jolie a “spoiled brat” and making racially offensive jokes about President Barack Obama‘s presumed taste in movies.

The comments were made in a series of leaked email exchanges between Rudin and Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal, who also apologized Thursday. It was yet another embarrassment in the ongoing Sony hacking scandal, in which highly sensitive material is being leaked almost daily.

True to my press relations and HR training: if you would be comfortable seeing your work communications (hard-copy, electronic, etc.) published in the newspaper, it’s probably within compliance and reputation boundaries. (Disclaimer: this does not replace seeking your own PR and legal advice!) If you’re not sure, it’s probably not okay.

And in my experience, a general lack of awareness and care with regard to written business communication is often (ironically) instrumental in self-documenting substandard performance.

How will you ensure that your organization colors within the legal and reputational lines of company email use this week and beyond, in business and at work?


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