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Brokerage Fires 19 Over E-mail Flap

May 7, 1999

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ The brokerage Edward Jones & Co. demanded that workers admit it if they sent pornography or off-color jokes over the company e-mail system, then it fired 19 of them for failing to fess up.

Another 41 who came forward were disciplined, the company said Friday.

The action illustrates the heightened scrutiny that many companies are giving to what they perceive is an abuse of their electronic communications networks.

``When people get Internet access at Edward Jones, they know the policy of the firm,″ said Mary Beth Heying, a spokeswoman for the brokerage. ``It is not acceptable to use the Internet for nonbusiness-related purposes.″

The company, which tracks employees’ telephone calls and Internet use, issued a memo on April 27 instructing employees who had sent e-mails containing the blue material to report to the personnel office by April 29, Heying said.

The 19 workers who were fired did not come forward on their own, Heying said. The 41 offenders who voluntarily admitted wrongdoing received written warnings.

The e-mail crackdown was confined to the 2,316 employees working among the three campuses that make up the company’s international headquarters in St. Louis, Heying said.

Edward Jones, the world’s ninth-largest brokerage, has a vast network of 4,570 offices in the United States, Canada and England. It has roughly 17,000 workers.

Eric Greenberg, director of management studies for American Management Association, said more companies are snooping on their employees’ e-mail and computer files.

A recent survey of 1,054 companies by the New York-based business trade group showed 27 percent check employee e-mail, up from 20 percent in 1998. Of the businesses that monitor e-mail, 84 percent said employees were informed of the practice.

The group has not tracked disciplinary actions taken against workers, but Greenberg believes it is on the rise.

``A lot of people think that their desk is their desk and their chair is their chair, but it isn’t,″ Greenberg said. ``If you are using company equipment and spending company dollars to do so, you have an obligation to be doing the company’s business.

The group recently sent an advisory to its 10,000 member companies, urging them to post policies on electronic monitoring and surveillance so that employees know they are being watched.

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