Warning: Your former workers just got the OK to blitz your employees at work with e-mails, including those that criticize your employment practices, thanks to a much-anticipated ruling from the California Supreme Court.
Your reaction, for now: Hold on tighter to employees' e-mail addresses as proprietary information to prevent disgruntled ex-workers from flooding your in-boxes with company-critical rants. You'll hold more legal ground to stop such spamming if you can show that the angry employee used confidential company information without permission, especially if a confidentiality agreement was signed.
Also, use this opportunity to reiterate your policy that limits employee use of company e-mail to company matters. And beef up your filtering software so you can identify and block unwanted e-mail from specific senders.
Recent case: After he was fired, an Intel Corp. engineer blasted thousands of messages to 68,000 employees through the company's e-mail system. The messages accused Intel of unfair labor practices.
Intel prevailed in lower courts, saying the e-mails had trespassed on its private network and hurt worker productivity. But the state Supreme Court overturned the ruling, saying the company didn't prove its computer system had actually been damaged by the e-mail barrage, so there was no trespass. Unlike with physical trespass, where no damage needs to be proved, this court said companies must prove actual damage to the property, not just abuse of its use, to win "electronic trespass" argument.
The court also said the e-mails didn't negatively affect employees "any more than the personal distress caused by reading an unpleasant letter would be an injury to the recipient's mailbox." (Intel Corp. v. Hamidi, No. S103781, Cal. Sup. Ct., 2003)
Bottom line: While the scope of the decision is limited to California, employment attorneys say its practical effects are wide-reaching, as more employers seek to rely on this and similar laws to police e-mail system abuse.
Online resources: Blocking spam
- Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail. Lots of good anti-spam links, at www.cauce.org/about/ resources.shtml.
- Spam calculator. Calculate spam's financial drain on your company at www.cmsconnect.com/marketing/spamcalc.htm.
- Spamcon Foundation. A nonprofit offering spam-fighting ideas, at www.spamcon.org.
- Brightmail. The leading maker of corporate anti-spam software, at www.brightmail.com.
- The Federal Trade Commission. Free information on how to stop spam, at www.ftc.gov/spam.
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- Build a Sturdy 'Escape Hatch' Into Your Organization's Discipline Policy
- Law prof sues for retaliation in wake of husband's own suit
- If layoff decision affects only a few, no notice necessary
- The pendulum swings back: More courts hesitate to interfere with minor job changes