Blocking Corporate Spam

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Well before spam became an issue in the workplace, IT departments had their hands full. They still do, of course. As much as technology skips merrily along and astounds with what's possible, the one thing it doesn't do is mean less work. Ask any IT specialist. For each problem that's resolved comes a new one that isn't. Unsolicited email in the workplace is a good example.

Legal Ramifications of Corporate Spam

Liability might not be the first thing that springs to mind when the subject of corporate spam comes up. After all, it's generally impossible to determine the culprit. Liability, it might seem, would thus be moot. Spam, however tedious and offensive and annoying, is an inconvenience. But that assumption, which seems logical enough at first glance, isn't the case. It's more than that. The conditions at a workplace are, almost without exception, solely the responsibility of the company.

When it comes to spam, the legal issue is hostile environment. This, initially defined in a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, refers to a "workplace . . . permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult." Unsolicited pornographic email (UPE) poses a potential risk. Failure to monitor or prevent inappropriate use of email can incur liability, as it did in a New Jersey case involving Continental Airlines in 2000.

Liability can be either direct or indirect. That an employee receives UPE does not make an employer liable. Once the employee formally complains about the problem, though, the situation changes. At that point, it's incumbent on management to address the issue. Anheuser-Busch and WorldCom, for example, had anti-spam email policies in place and acted promptly on them when situations arose. Forewarned is forearmed.

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