Majority of workers get inappropriate email

By Bloomberg News
Special to CNET

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts--Fifty-six percent of U.S. workers with access to the Internet say they receive electronic mail that is sexist or racist, or of an inappropriate religious nature, according to a study conducted by NFO Worldwide.

It also found that 86 percent of workers say they use company email to send and receive personal email. Seventy percent of employees said they've gotten adult-oriented personal email while at work, while 64 percent said they've received "politically incorrect" or offensive email. Sending out confidential corporate news is a problem, too, the study found. One in ten employees said they receive email that contains confidential company information. The survey was commissioned by Elron Software, which makes software that monitors workplace Internet use, to look at how email is misused in corporations. Elron said it will develop a software product that would track or block offensive email.

The study highlights a rising concern among employers as more give their workers Internet access. If a worker sends an explicit joke to other people at his company, for instance, that could expose the employer to a sexual-harassment lawsuit.

"More than half of workers receive adult-oriented jokes, racial jokes, and confidential information," said Kelly Haggerty, product marketing manager at Elron. "That leaves a company vulnerable" to lawsuits. Forty percent of workers said their companies track email use. The study was based on 805 interviews this month with workers that have Internet access and was conducted by NFO Interactive, a unit of NFO Worldwide. Stamford, Connecticut-based NFO Worldwide is a market research company whose customers include IBM and Bell Atlantic. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Elron Software is a unit of Elron Electronic Industries Limited, a Haifa, Israel-based company involved in imaging, defense electronics, semiconductors and networking services.