Spam Legal Issues

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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 awards.

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 discrimination

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 damages.

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