Policing the workplace used to mean reminding employees about personal phone

Question
Policing the workplace used to mean reminding employees about personal phone calls and making sure that paper clips did not disappear. But with the computer revolution at work that began in the 1990s, checking on employee behavior at work became considerably more technical. The threats to data security, not to mention other threats for potential lawsuits (e.g., sexual harassment), are now more complex as well. New federal laws pertaining to financial and medical records have put increased pressure on companies to protect their data. But auditing user privacy cannot be done without input and buy-in from HR, notes a senior consultant with an IT security firm in Massachusetts. Whether the concern is in appropriate Internet usage or transferring files outside the company, HR may be the first to learn of a problem. Although the possibility of outside attacks on the computer network is a real problem, the threat of internal security breaches is even greater. The growing insider problem and the sheer volume of electronic messages coming into and out of a company (a large company easily processes one million e-mails per day) present HR with a challenge on data security policy development, implementation, and enforcement. HR may be asked to “identify personnel at risk” who might require more stringent watching, such as people who are sending out résumés. In many cases, people leaving organizations take advantage of the opportunity to take intellectual property with them. Security software identifying employee behaviors will always require HR involvement. Policy violations, banned sites, and stealing identity data are examples. Companies look very bad when sensitive customer or employee data are stolen or leaked to the public. Employees can easily resent the security measures and see the security as “Big Brother” watching. However, the growth of identity theft and spyware means that more employees have been personally affected by data security and are more likely to recognize the need for their employers’ data security efforts. At Spherion, HR publishes a “computer and telecom resources policy” that specifies appropriate usage and a code of conduct. Employees must read and sign the policy. The company also has an IT Risk Team with members from HR, accounting, internal auditing, and other departments. There are, of course, attempts at a purely technical solution to the problem. But it is clear that HR must have a role in balancing employee privacy with company risk management. A simple act, such as a bank’s loan officer burning credit information to a CD and selling the data to another bank, can undo all the technical protections. The human side—developing a policy, communicating it, ing people understand why it is needed, and applying it fairly—is the big piece for HR.56 Employee data theft most frequently occurs with new employees or when an employee has given notice and is leaving. How would you deal with these two very different issues?
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