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You are only a click away from court
Published on Thursday, 09 Jun 2011
Illustration: Bay Leung

New job, day one: Before you log on with that new username you're struggling to remember, pause to think how your use of IT affects your employer.

Two questions to ask: Are you threatening the security of the organisation through careless handling of confidential information, and opening up the system to viruses?

But your new supervisor's biggest concern is likely to be an issue that gets much less attention, despite causing a string of legal problems for companies and staff around the world. Employers are legally liable for the content of information sent to, forwarded from or downloaded to their IT. One misguided click of the mouse, and you or your boss could be heading to court.

Remember that you are not the one who will determine if your e-mail is offensive, discriminatory or defamatory. It is how your words are taken, not how they are intended, that counts legally. One person's joke may be taken as an obscene comment by another.

If you use a remote platform such as a personal e-mail account or a social networking site, this may reduce your boss's liability, but you and management are still responsible for your conduct in the workplace.

Most companies have a clear policy on IT use. Your employer will almost certainly monitor internet use and retain the right to retrieve and scrutinise your communication. Many employers will allow limited personal use of office IT, such as making bookings or sending personal e-mails outside working hours. Make sure you know the rules and stick to them. Before you click send, ask yourself: How would this look if everyone saw it? They just might.

Matthew Hill, managing director, Ambition Hong Kong

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