Workers disciplined for e-mail use

Montana's Department of Corrections yesterday announced it was disciplining 74 Montana State Prison employees for misusing e-mail.

Most of the employees received a verbal warning, department officials said. A few received written warnings, counseling or unpaid leave. One employee resigned.

Some of the e-mail messages contained inappropriate jokes, but the more prevalent problem was an overuse of the system for personal messages, said Bob Anez, communications director for the department.

One employee sent 150 personal messages during one 8-hour work shift, he said.

When employees come onboard, they have to read and sign an IT policy statement that spells out appropriate use of e-mail at work, Anez said. 'We ask them to think of how they would feel if this [e-mail] showed up in a newspaper,' he said. 'It's a good measuring stick.' The department sent out notices that reminded employees of the commitment they made when they started and the restrictions on what they can do on the state e-mail system.

The department had a similar episode in 2006, when employees were found to be using the e-mail system to send inappropriate messages in violation of department and state policy.

Part of the problem is that the prison is remote, even by Montana standards, Anez said. 'We have people traveling considerable distances, so limited personal use of e-mail is OK, if you need to tell your spouse to pick up the kids at daycare. We contemplated a complete ban on all personal use, but how do you enforce that [without] taking away a valuable communication resource.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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