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Protecting Your Business from Legal Liability with Digital Communication Etiquette

Updated: Apr 25, 2019

Now that everything is admissible, how do you handle digital communication etiquette?

I get that not everyone cares about the potential legal liability of daily emails, but now that everything is admissible it is up to us as HR professionals to set some ground rules in order to protect the organization from themselves. Digital communication is relatively new, however, throughout the millennium there have been various forms of communication that has implied written etiquette rules to ensure successful communication without ramifications. Can you imagine somebody messing up a smoke signal resulting in tribal warfare, or an innocent innuendo that was interpreted as an offer of a passionate rendezvous resulting in catastrophic consequences (read #MeToo)? Communication has become instantaneous, and as such, the need for documented etiquette is so much more important today no matter where you conduct business.

We have certainly evolved over the centuries in our communication practices in differing forms, from cave paintings, believed by theorists to “mark one’s territory” or record events, to carrier pigeons, smoke signals and the good ol’ paid envelope mailbox delivery method. With the dawn of the digital age, business communication became instantaneous. Unfortunately, most companies still treat employee communication etiquette the same as they did decades ago.

As we continue to advance and organizations look for new ways to working to drive innovation and speed to market, with a zest to use technology for automation in the more transactional aspects of businesses has brought new opportunities to digitally communicate instantaneously across global platforms.

HR For the Digital Age

Did you miss the text, instant message, emoji, post, email, or digital communication that has become a daily necessity in our daily lives and cannot be pushed under the rug in hopes no one will notice? As we make way for the Gen Z, the newest generation entering our workforce, these methods of communication are embedding themselves in the very fabric of our work experience as well as redefining portions of our corporate culture.

So, the question is, how do we protect our territories (businesses) from legal liability with a foundation that enables us to keep advancing our businesses and provide a leveling guide for our talent? First, we need to understand some basic definitions:

  • Digital etiquette by popular definition varies based on who you ask personally, or in the workforce

  • Social behavior is a code that delineates expectations for social conduct, a governing expectation to respect and protect.

It is no secret that the way we communicate, both personally and professionally has altered how we get our work done. Digital communication in the workplace is no longer an option it is a necessity. How you as a leader, as an organization, choose, adopt, and implement tools will determine long term success.

Don’t fall into the trap like many organizations who wish to wait for legal challenges to arise before addressing, yet are blindsided with penalties, fines, interest, and legal fees that could have been avoided by implementing policies and practices to minimize exposure and expensive law suits.

Based on my experience as a globally certified human resources professional there are many risks that can be mitigated and addressed before catastrophe strikes, like the “#MeToo movement, that has auto-corrected the unexpected, which brings me to a series of blogs to discuss legal ramifications and recommendations for digital communication etiquette.

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