You should see the email I got from Fred…

By: Mark Hook

Date: 28 August 2009

Have you ever sent a non-work email using your business email address? It's a safe bet that the vast majority of employees up and down the country have, and it's a source of potential problems that small businesses need to be aware of.

Defining email 'misuse' isn't easy, but it's something every business needs to think about and communicate clearly to employees. Small businesses in particular can find it difficult to monitor employee email activity, and having a clear set of guidelines in place is a good way of preventing problems from arising in the first place. What should go in your email guidelines? There's a link at the end of this page to a great set of pointers from the Law Donut, but one thing I'd stress here is that a little common sense can go a long way.

Not all non-work emailing creates the same risks for your business. Some things you need to be very clear about prohibiting – such as emails containing racist, sexist or otherwise offensive material or links. They can cause you serious problems, from reputational damage to potential employment tribunal cases. But what about 'standard' non-work emails that an employee sends to friends or colleagues? Here there's a strong case for taking a much more flexible or tolerant approach. Banning all personal emails probably isn't feasible or desirable. Employees aren't robots, so it's inevitable that personal emails will be sent from time to time. It's a question of degree – as long as an employee is completing their work satisfactorily for you (and not preventing anyone else from doing the same), does it really matter to you whether they send three personal emails per week or 33 per day?

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