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Technology Use Policy

January 1, 2009

Detail how staff can and should be using the technology at your association to avoid liability.

When President Barack Obama took office, he fought for the right to bring along his BlackBerry. If the president of the United States had trouble relinquishing his PDA, just imagine how difficult it might be for your staff to shelve their personal electronic devices or curtail Internet usage during working hours. Without a communications section in your employee policy establishing appropriate phone, fax, e-mail, and Internet usage, managing staff productivity could become a problem.

So how do you provide effective communication with your members but ensure that employees stay focused on the task at hand? Below are some essentials of a staff communications policy. Couple these with the recommendations covered in the “Law & Policy” column for a thorough policy.

Privacy is Not an Option
Contrary to popular belief, the right to privacy does not extend to association-owned computers on which employees communicate and work. Establish a policy clearly stating that all communications or work done on your employees’ work computers is property of your association and subject to monitoring and auditing at any time, including the computers of employees who telecommute using -association property.

Internet
Associations should clearly detail what types of Internet activities are acceptable, during which hours, and for how long. Your policy should encompass all types of e-communication, including Internet, e-mail, instant messaging, blogging, social media, or any other new communication technology that may be developed in the future. It should also establish that employees’ electronic communications should be professional at all times—not discriminatory, harassing, derogatory, or illegal.

Your policy should detail what type of Internet activity is acceptable. In addition to specifically banning access of adult Web sites, pornography, and gambling, your policy should also cover how much time (if any) staff can spend online shopping, blogging, chatting, and other online social activities. Many associations ban access to these sites alto-gether because they are not only a drain on productivity but also on bandwidth. Another option is to establish “e-break” opportunities or allow access to these sites only before and after work hours.

Document Retention Policy
So many important documents may be stored only on employee computers. That’s why it’s imporant to implement a document retention and destruction policy that includes: 1) a specific time period after which documents are automatically deleted; 2) the requirement that employees regularly discard stored computerized communication; 3) the suspension of all automatic deletion of documents once litigation or an investigation has begun.

Confidentiality is Critical
Employees should never send any confidential information via traditional e-communication. Documents containing social security numbers or employee medical information should only be sent using secured software or password-protected tools that allow secure messages to be sent to a recipient via e-mail.

Telephone Usage
Any policy limiting personal telephone usage during business hours should include cell phone -usage as well. While staff may feel that using their cell phone during business hours is acceptable because it is personal property, it can still interfere with productivity. Allowing cell phone usage during non-work time, such as breaks or lunch, or for -family emergencies is a good option.

Voice Mail
A voice mail policy is a wise addition to your phone policy. Adopt a standard to ensure that there is always a way for callers to reach a live person. Also, make sure that employees know to record special out-of-the-office messages when they will not be at their desks.

Monitoring
In order to negate any perception of singling out one employee for discriminatory or other illegal purposes, when you need to monitor for suspicious activity, it’s prudent to surveil all employees. It is also your duty to investigate and report any illegal activity to authorities. Failing to report knowledge of illegal activity can expose your association to liability.

Develop and Distribute your Policy
Developing your communication policies will not only clearly establish how you should handle certain situations, but will put employees on notice as to the dis-ciplinary action they’ll be facing should they engage in unauthorized activity. Provide each of your employees with a copy of the policy and ask that they all sign a form acknowledging that they’ve read and understand it. Keep a copy of their signed and dated acknowledgment in their personnel file. Although this should limit your liability, always check with your state for specific laws.

Using Social Media to Recruit Staff?
Some job applicants now include their URL to sites such as LinkedIn on their -résumé so that prospective employers can view their profile, including recommendations from colleagues, clients, or former -employers. Be wary, though, if you choose to do an Internet search of the applicant’s name. Though you may get seemingly -relevant hits for Facebook, MySpace, or other social media, there are often cases of mistaken identity (especially since many -profiles do not include pictures or other clearly defining characteristics that would definitively link the profile to the applicant).

If, however, you are able to verify the person’s identity and something you read dissuades you from hiring the applicant, it’s useful to document the reason for your decision. All too often, people lose sight of the fact that their information is there for everyone to see, not just that professor they threatened (as one University of Kentucky student did on his Facebook profile).