Electronically exposed – what your employees should know
The digital world is exploding around us. Developments in electronic
communications, social media, applications, internet, games, wearable technology
and the like are happening so fast that workplace rules cannot keep up. Employers
are nevertheless obliged to take reasonable steps to address these issues and
minimise potential liability.
Workplaces nowadays depend on computers, electronic communications and digital
information. Most people have smartphones and access to social media. The world
of Big Data has arrived, and it is beginning to affect employers and their decision-
making in ways undreamed of even a few years ago. The advantages and risks of the
digital world are now inextricably linked with HR issues (e.g. harassment,
discrimination, diversity, privacy), operational security and reputational/financial risk
exposure. The issues that can arise are brand new or develop in a context that makes
the past compliance dispensation difficult to apply.
Employees need to be educated about the risks to the employer as well as to
themselves related to the use of electronic devices and computer systems – what
some may regard as obvious, others may be oblivious to. An employer may find itself
legally responsible for the actions of an unwitting employee. A workplace policy in
this regard has become essential to all businesses – no matter how big or small.
What should such a policy contain?
It is simply not possible for employers to anticipate and regulate all potential risk
contingencies or infractions by their employees. Huge corporates might come close
with extensive and detailed policies, but this is not a viable option for all employers.
• Employers could however clearly state the principles of use (in whatever digital
form) that they expect of their employees and align these with existing policies in
other areas. Relevant policies naturally draw from the established principles of
maintaining proper workplace environment and establishing reasonable
restrictions on employee behaviour. Examples include: employee privacy both on
and off site, consent issues relating to workplace security; adherence to anti-
discrimination and harassment law, protection of company trade secrets and
other intellectual property tenets; prevention of defamation, company ethics,
• Rules around the use of company devices, systems, hardware and software
should be regulated – e.g. physical security of devices, anti-virus measures,
software licenses, passwords, confidentiality, system protocols.
• Internet use – the danger of tracking cookies, using copyright material,
inappropriate browsing and downloads, games, online gambling, etc.