October 12, 2011

What does your tech policy say?

Posted in Employee Handbooks, Facebook, Internet Policies, Misconduct, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Networking, Unemployment Benefits tagged , , , , at 8:27 am by Tom Jacobson

Facebook.  LinkedIn.  E-mail.  The web.  Smart phones.  We all know that the latest and greatest technology advances have become indispensable tools for business and personal use, but when personal use interferes with business, the troubles at work start to brew.   Employers with well-drafted technology use policies can keep those troubles to a minimum.

Washington County (MN) recently benefited from its own “acceptable use” policy in case decided by the Minnesota Court of Appeals (Misenor v. County of Washington). The case involved Lori Misenor, who was fired after the county discovered that over 25 workdays, Misenor sent 342 personal e-mails from her county e-mail account during business hours.  Moreover, her personal e-mails often contained information about her husband, children, finances, extramarital affair or affairs, critiques of her job and coworkers, her search for a new job, and racially insensitive material.  The Court of Appeals concluded that this was misconduct which disqualified Misenor from unemployment benefits.

Key to the Court’s decision was the fact that Washington County had an “acceptable use” policy regarding its information technology resources. Regarding this policy, the Court noted:

In this case, the county has a policy that limits the amount of personal use of the county’s e-mail system and also prohibits e-mail messages with material that is ‘obscene, pornographic, [or] racially or sexually harassing or explicit.’  This is a reasonable policy that establishes a standard of behavior that the county has the right to reasonably expect of its employees…. Despite this policy, Misenor sent 342 personal e-mails over a 25-workday period. Many of the e-mails are lengthy, indicating that Misenor took considerable time away from her duties to engage in e-mail correspondence. In addition, some of her e-mails contained racially insensitive and sexually explicit material. Misenor’s repeated violations of the county’s policy display a serious violation of the standards of behavior that the county has the right to reasonably expect of her.

Information technology policies are important for many other reasons.  Well-drafted policies set the standards of behavior that employers can expect, so they can provide the basis for disciplinary action and a defense to many legal claims. However, poorly drafted use polices have been held to violate the National Labor Relations Act (see NLRB challenges Facebook firingFacebook firings revisited – NLRB extends its reachFacebook firing case settled).

For more information about how to craft an effective technology use policy, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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