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Online discussions increase company communications, liability

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,People Management

American workers can access the Internet, e-mail, instant messaging and other forms of electronic communications from anywhere at any time.

While electronic communication helps people do their jobs, it also leaves a trail. A telephone conversation relies on the memory of two participants, but e-mail and IM discussions can be preserved for years to come. And, given the casual way so many people fire off e-mail these days, that can spell legal trouble for employers.

Learn the new risks created by the Information Age — and the best strategies to avoid them — in an informative audio conference CD.
My Space, Your Liability: Best Practices for Monitoring Blogs, IMs, E-mail and Web Surfing

Case in Point: After Tammy Blakey sued Continental Airlines for sexual harassment, her co-workers used an online bulletin board to post derogatory gender-based messages about her abilities as a pilot. In response, Blakey launched another lawsuit charging Continental with a hostile work environment caused by the e-mail postings.

Continental didn't own the Crew Members Forum. The company had created a computer system for crew members to check their flight schedules. One way to access the system was through the CompuServe Internet service, which also offered the electronic forum as an additional service.

A lower court threw out the case, saying Continental didn't have any control over the forum. But, in a ruling that The National Law Journal called "groundbreaking," the New Jersey Supreme Court reinstated the hostile environment claim, saying an e-mail bulletin board is a "setting related to the workplace" and employers can be on the hook for cyberspace harassment.

The high court said Continental didn't have a duty to monitor the messages. But once the company found out that employees were harassing a co-worker on the forum, it had a duty to fix the situation. (Blakey v. Continental Airlines Inc., No. A-5-99, N.J. Sup. Ct., 2000)

My Space, Your Liability: Best Practices for Monitoring Blogs, IMs, E-mail and Web Surfing

Advice: This decision expands your company's liability for sexual harassment into online communications. While it doesn't require that companies monitor all employee communications, managers do need to take quick action if you discover harassment is taking place via the Internet or e-mail. Launch an immediate investigation, and don't assume the activity is limited to only a few people, as e-mail often leaves trails throughout a company.

Also, your sexual harassment policy should prohibit harassment via any electronic system. Handbooks should spell out the unacceptable behavior and place employees on notice that your company can and will monitor Internet and e-mail use.

Get the CD from this informative live event!
My Space, Your Liability: Best Practices for Monitoring Blogs, IMs, E-mail and Web Surfing

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