Teach Employees the Legal Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media, Text and Email

What does it take to keep business communication effective and compliant?

An employee works remotely with papers and a laptop.

What should employees know about digital communication?

Today’s workplace communication technologies are heavily weighted toward digital mediums. Even before employees around the world were forced into remote working methods by the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, social media, text and email were ubiquitous for business conversations. Now, with fewer in-person interactions than ever before, information of all kinds is passing through digital communication channels.

Whether your employees are reaching out to customers and prospects, talking among themselves or filing official records meant for retention in the archives, they are likely using digital communications. Text programs such as Slack and Microsoft Teams are leading platforms, but simple SMS messages and Google Hangouts are also commonly used across industries. Email has been around for decades now, but has added complexities based on the sensitivity of information being sent. Social media platforms are diverse and ever-evolving and come with their own privacy policies.

Taking some time to educate your employees on the best practices and legal requirements behind all these communication methods is a worthwhile use of time. Considering just how much business is being conducted over digital channels, it’s clear your team members will make use of the facts they learn in these courses.

The Evolving World of Office Communication

What is the normal means of communication in your office? Chances are it is a digital medium, and one that didn’t exist until recently. Slack and Microsoft Teams are two examples of this phenomenon of new platforms becoming quickly indispensable. This rapid tech turnover raises questions, however: How can employees be sure they are obeying privacy and security regulations when they share data on these new chat programs?

Microsoft published a blog post about the ins and outs of using Teams while staying in compliance. The solution has features that can restrict access and enable the classification of emails and other messages. The mere presence of these functions in Teams and similar programs isn’t enough to ensure employees are communicating safely, of course. Your employees should also have the knowledge to understand what kinds of data need to be protected in text chats, emails and more – or not shared at all.

Your company can help this process of compliance by setting internal communication policies that are at least as strict as the legal requirements in your area. By having these clearly posted regulations available to employees, you give them a one-stop place to answer their questions about appropriate communication.

An employee works at home with three devices.What is the importance of briefing employees on electronic communication guidelines?

The Legal Complexities of Remote Work

Thomson Reuters’ Todd Ehret used a recent JD Supra article to point out how the remote working policies adopted in the wake of the pandemic can be tricky to manage from a legal compliance perspective, as businesses that may have never planned to enable working from home have been forced to come up with their rules on the fly. Ehret noted, for instance, companies required to archive their communication sometimes fail to follow this step when their employees leave the physical office. Ensuring everyone is still living up to their legal obligations is important, as is giving them support in their efforts to stay compliant. Team members need to know they’re not on their own.

The increased risk associated with locations that are not controlled company offices is not just a feature of the pandemic era. Forbes contributor Laurel Farrer reported, companies with no solid information security policies could be breaking the law through common everyday communication – and she wrote this in April 2019. Accessing sensitive documents without using a secure server could be a legal violation. The laws designed to protect especially sensitive and breach-prone data such as medical records have not been relaxed, and communication policies should reflect this fact.

Another element of remote compliance to keep in mind is policies may have been outdated and in need of a refresh even before the switch to a distance-work model. Checking internal communication rules against the laws in all relevant regions should be a comprehensive process, to ensure no inadvertent violations are ongoing.

How Training Can Help Employees Improve Practices

The legal risks associated with making email or other messaging mistakes apply to both individuals and organizations, and encompass internal and external communication. The topic is so broad and important to get right that you can specifically add employee training modules on related issues. There are numerous ways for messages to lead to legal consequences – for example, reaching out to customers without approval to contact them can put your company in trouble with regulators, as can sending personally identifiable information without proper security in place.

Adapting to a newly remote workplace is an important objective with far-reaching consequences. Momentum across industries favored increased distance work and digital communication, even before the COVID-19 crisis turned these concepts into constant considerations. Ensuring these new practices and preferences don’t come with unintended legal consequences is therefore a sensible use of training resources. Keeping your employees aware of all relevant laws is simply a good modern communication practice.

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