Spam Legal Issues
Spam can create legal complications for businesses:
• Hostile or unsafe workplace lawsuits
• Sexual harassment lawsuits
Defending against unsafe workplace lawsuits of this nature can be
tremendously expensive for businesses. You must be able to document
all efforts made to protect workers from offensive materials. Legal
costs can quickly climb into the tens of thousands without any
guarantee of a favorable decision.
Similarly, employees forwarding pornographic spam
can create huge liabilities for their employers. What one person
might intend as a joke can be perceived by someone on the receiving
end as harassment. We’ve all heard the old saying “perception is
reality” and many juries have backed that viewpoint with substantial
Companies worldwide need to provide a positive work environment for
their employees. For example, in the US, companies with 25 or more
employees must, under federal law, provide a work environment free
of gender, ethnic or racial harassment or discrimination.
That requires taking reasonable steps to eliminate harassing
materials from the workplace. It may not matter whether the company
knew employees were downloading pornographic images or passing
racist e-mail jokes.
The test at trial could be whether well-known remedies were
available to prevent abuses, whether a policy existed to apply those
remedies, and whether the policy was actually enforced.
Illegal or offensive content may include:
• Pornographic images downloaded off the Web
• E-mail jokes (either sent or received)
• Pornographic or racially offensive e-mail attachments
• Rumors or gossip regarding a fellow employee
• Unauthorized release of personal employee information
• E-mail discussions that result in employee harassment or
Illegal or offensive content - both Web and e-mail - is a risk. It
is much better from a legal standpoint to protect your business with
strong spam filters and an ironclad Acceptable Use policy that is
enforced every day.
What’s important to stress here is that having a policy is generally
not enough to establish a defense to a claim of harassment.
Employers must also enforce the policy and proactively take steps to
prevent employees from being exposed to harassing material.
Non-enforcement implies non-commitment or, worse,
disregard for accepted working conditions, while the implementation
of filtering systems and perimeter protection services count as
important indicators of corporate intent to enforce stated policies.
The three-pronged foundation of policy, training, and enforcement
greatly reduces the potential for employment-related claims.
In the event of litigation, this foundation will
strengthen the employer’s position in requesting a summary judgment
or other motion to terminate litigation at any early stage – saving
legal costs in hundreds of thousands of dollars and substantial