Ethics Matters Newsletter header images for the three campuses of the University of Illinois. Also contains the Ethics Office Mission statement.

What all Employees Should Know About Electronic Communications and Email Use, May, 2012

May 2012 / Issue 7

MAIN MATTERS

Classroom Training Sessions

The University Ethics Office has scheduled and will be hosting classroom ethics training sessions during the late spring and early summer months on the Chicago and Urbana campuses. If your unit typically schedules classroom training, please make sure you and your co-workers attend one of the scheduled presentations.

UPCOMING MATTERS

Mark your calendars!!!

The 2012 online annual ethics training window will be:

October 2 - 31, 2012

For more information, please visit our website!

University Ethics Office:
ethicsofficer@uillinois.edu
Ethics Help Line: 866-758-2146

Human Resources Bldg., Rm. 20
One University Plaza, HRB 20 Springfield, IL 62703-5407

What all Employees Should Know About Electronic Communications and Email Use

Email is perhaps the primary method of communication in today's workplace. It is safe to say that most University employees use email to communicate on a daily basis. Though the extent and method of use varies by individual employee, there are some important points everyone should remember when it comes to email in the workplace.

It is an official document...

Though email is often viewed as more casual in nature due to its less formal appearance, an email communication sent via your University email account or received by another University account is considered a University document - regardless of whether the message is sent using desktop software, via a smart phone, through webmail, or other mediums. As employees, we must always remember the communications we send via email and store electronically are, by definition, public records, and should be treated as official documents - not as "off the record" or "offline conversations."

Similar to memorandums and other written documentation, electronic communications can be subpoenaed or requested through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests for external review. Your email could be reprinted or quoted on page one of the local newspaper or lead an evening newscast. You should exercise extreme caution when discussing confidential details, such as patient, student, or personnel matters that may violate personal privacy laws, and consider carefully whether to use email. Certainly, some information within the email may be protected or exempt and therefore may be redacted before release when there is a basis in state or federal law. Information that is traditionally treated in a confidential manner on the University campus should be carefully considered prior to being included in email communications.

If you are conducting University business (including teaching) through a personal email account (e.g., gmail, hotmail, yahoo), then the University-related communications are subject to FOIA, regardless of whether they are generated on private equipment or in personal accounts. 

Attorney-client privilege...

The attorney-client privilege applies only to communications between an attorney and a client in confidence for the purpose of seeking or providing legal assistance for the client. Unless a communication meets the following criteria:

  • between an attorney and a client
  • communicated in confidence
  • purpose of providing legal assistance

it is NOT protected from disclosure. Simply cc'ing legal counsel on a communication does not magically make it privileged.

Filing structures do not increase document privacy...

Most email servers and individual accounts allow you to create personal folders. You should be aware that information contained in these structures is not private. "Personal" simply means you have defined an organizational structure for messages that you are saving for personal reasons on your work computer. Under certain circumstances, the information contained in these folders can be accessed and reviewed by approved parties.

Electronic documents maintained in personal folders, your inbox, and even junk mail may be retained on University email servers. Once those messages and documents have been deleted, they are still maintained for a short period of time on servers. This is important to understand in regard to record retention and the accessibility of communications. Further, email and electronic files stored on your local computer, thumb drive, or "in the cloud" are still subject to FOIA or possible administrative review.

Appropriate use policies...

The University has campus-based policies governing computer usage:

Chicago Acceptable Use Policy:

http://www.uic.edu/depts/accc/policies/uicpol.html

Springfield Appropriate Use Policy:

http://www.uis.edu/its/about/policies.html

Urbana Appropriate Use Policy:

http://www.cam.illinois.edu/viii/VIII-1.1.htm

The bottom line on computer usage is that it is flexible, with certain restrictions, as described in University policies and procedures, including the appropriate use policies listed above. If your unit has a more stringent computer use policy, you are required to follow the stricter of the two. 

University email and outside work...

Using your University email account or computer to conduct business related to a second position outside of the University is a conflict of interest and is prohibited per University policy. Examples of this type of abuse include but are not limited to:

  • using your University email address on a business card or website for your personal business
  • sending an email to your co-workers to let them know you are hosting a sales party or that the orders made at a party you hosted in the past have arrived
  • listing your email as contact information with your second position outside of the university, such as the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) or a real estate firm

For additional information, please see your respective University Policy on Conflicts of Commitment and Interest:

Academic Employees:

http://www.vpr.uillinois.edu/rnua/

Civil Service Employees:

https://nessie.uihr.uillinois.edu/pdf/policy/rules/pr16r01.pdf