The Following Article May Be Inappropriate for Some Readers

Need to draw up one of those "appropriate use" policies for your employees' e-mail and Internet activities? Just keep it broad and general — "We reserve the right to monitor you, and you face discipline if we don't like what we see" — and you've covered your assets. Right?

Wrong. Increasingly, global companies face a real and daunting challenge when it comes to appropriate use policies, because what's deemed "appropriate" varies widely by region and by presiding judges.

Much of Europe is headed toward pro-employee policies through a European Union draft directive that's currently being written. In the Netherlands, a legal trade magazine recently discovered that judges favour the employee in cases where an individual was fired for inappropriate use of the company's systems.

The lesson: Companies must be far more specific in their policy statements and must proactively educate their employees about those statements.

This should be a wake-up call to companies with generalist appropriate-use policies. Companies may find that they need several policies targeted at specific areas of the world.

To see just how fractured appropriate use is, check out a Virginia Tech Web page that lists codes of conduct from around the world, translated into English. Some are from particular companies, some are from professional organisations, and some are from government sources. There are also resources on creating a solid code of ethics or appropriate use policy. It's a gold mine of global ethics practices and links. (See WorldCodes/class.html.)

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