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TUC calls for Email Code at Work

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The TUC and the Industrial Society are, at today's (Friday's) TUC Conference on Human Rights, calling on employers to sit down with unions and draw up Codes of Practice for their staff on Email usage. They have jointly produced a set of guidelines of do's and don'ts regarding the sending and receiving of emails.

The guidelines suggest that any code of practice should set out to encourage responsible behaviour, good management practice and safeguard worker privacy. Policies should:

• warn users that emails may be electronically scanned for obscene, indecent, racist or illegal remarks

• allow for the occasional and reasonable personal use of email, as long as this does not interfere with an employee's work

• give assurances that emails between union reps and members will not be monitored or read by managers

• remind employees that their emails may be checked by others at work if they are unexpectedly absent or have gone on leave without leaving forwarding arrangements.

TUC General Secretary John Monks said: "Good relationships at work are based on trust. The recent regulations have left many employees worried that managers might be snooping on their personal emails. And employers fear that if they open any email containing private information, they could be breaching the Human Rights Act. But instead of reacting by banning the personal use of email at work, it makes more sense for employers to consult with their workforce and draw up guidance which protects and reassures everyone."

Industrial Society Chief Executive Will Hutton said: "The explosion of new technologies in the workplace has risks as well as rewards. Employers are increasingly aware of cyberliability' and email abuse and are using more covert and intrusive methods of surveillance. While employers have legitimate interests to protect, over zealous monitoring can undermine employees' dignity and autonomy within the workplace. It is essential that employers develop sensible solutions with their employees to promote good practice in this area, based around openness, consent and consultation with their employees."

The TUC guidelines say that employers need to protect themselves and their staff from abusive or obscene email, but that this should not be at the expense of employee privacy. Good employers with email policies will usually seek the consent of an employee before monitoring takes place, and only act after a complaint has been received.