December 08, 2000, 3:13 PM —
WE OFTEN EQUATE the office life of our parents with an antiquated boys' club where
harassment knew no limits and business communication knew no speed. Back then, if you
wanted to get the same information to 10 different people you sent 10 letters through
the U.S. mail or you left 10 separate messages with 10 obedient secretaries.
Today employees have the right to a harassment-free workplace and the Internet has
made mass communication as easy as a few mouse clicks.
Not so fast, says Walter R. Boos, president of Content Technologies, in Bellevue,
Wash., a developer of e-mail and Internet content security solutions. The Internet has
exposed your company to a potential bevy of business and harassment nightmares. Here
are three dangers to which your tech-savvy company may be vulnerable.
1. Inappropriate materials in e-mail
The proliferation of e-mail gives your employees the ability to send racist,
sexist, and other objectionable messages to a nearly limitless number of people,
explains Boos. As an employer, you are responsible for the e-mail content of even your
most depraved employees. If an outraged worker files a lawsuit after receiving
offensive or threatening e-mail, your company's pocketbook -- and reputation -- could
2. Confidential information leaks
Most information leaks occur not as a result of malicious intent but through an
innocent accident, says Boos. A perfect example is when employees unintentionally send
sensitive e-mail messages to erroneous recipients. "If I have two people with similar
names in my Outlook address book," says Boos, "I could choose the wrong name, hit the
send button, and innocently expose confidential information."
3. Inappropriate use of tech assets
Consider Boos' example of a certain insurance company's bandwidth crisis in
December 1998. An employee of this company received a holiday e-mail with an "elf
bowling" computer game attached. "It was kind of cute and humorous," says Boos, "but in
computing terms, it took up a fair amount of space." The recipient liked the game so
much that he sent it to several of his friends within the company, who each sent it to
several others. Within 48 hours the company's e-mail system crashed. "Tens of thousands
of very innocent e-mails overloaded the system." explains Boos. "This was not Darth
Vader malicious stuff."