The sacking of 10 staff by the Royal SunAlliance last week, over the distribution of 'lewd' e-mails has exposed the difficulties of formulating and policing a robust email policy.
The dismissals occurred at the RSA following an internal investigation that was launched after a member of staff at the Liverpool office complained about receiving the offending e-mail. Some of those sacked are reported to be considering legal action against the company.
A recent influx of legislation including the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), the revised Data Protection Act (1998) and the Human Rights Act (1998) all have a bearing on e-mail policy and have complicated the task of creating sound codes of conduct.
"The law governing the abuse of e-mail is in a mess," said Dai Davis, a solicitor with Nabarro Nathanson. "There are no consistent guidelines in place at present."
Davis suggests that companies who are worried that their e-mail abuse policies might not be legally binding should adopt the practices put in place by other firms. The majority allow for personal use, as long as this does not involve downloading pornography and banned sites, he said.