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Agency allowed to revoke e-mail access

An appellate court rules that a state agency was correct in revoking e-mail privileges for an employee who used the system to send union-related messages.

A New York state agency was correct when it took away a union representative's e-mail privileges because he violated the employee use policy, a state court has ruled.

A New York State appeals court panel last week endorsed the Department of Education's decision to revoke Michael Darcy's e-mail access because he used it for unauthorized union activities.

Although many companies have e-mail and Internet policies prohibiting nonbusiness use, employees often ignore them and employers often look the other way. Occasionally, workers are fired for using a company's system to acquire porn, amass MP3 files or harass employees. However, revoking e-mail access--an action that could make working difficult in this wired world--is still new territory.

In this case, the state argued that Darcy repeatedly abused his work e-mail system by conducting unofficial union-related business, including sending mass mail critical of the governor and legislation--even after he had been warned not to. However, Darcy, believing his activities did not violate policy, continued his actions.

Although the state occasionally lets union members schedule some union meetings and other events using the e-mail system, officials argued that Benson's activities went too far.

The appeals panel agreed, ruling that the state had acted correctly by warning Darcy several times before revoking his access. "Undisputed testimony revealed that the department had an existing policy regarding employee use of e-mail, that Darcy was considered to be in violation of that policy on more than one occasion," the judges wrote.

The state has a policy that workers are prohibited from using state computers for activities "not related to the official assignment or job responsibilities of employees or the mission of state agencies."

When the state first took away Darcy's e-mail access in 1999, he filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board, saying his employer had improperly discouraged union activities. A judge ruled in Darcy's favor, but the labor relations board reversed the ruling. The latest appeals panel ruling upholds that decision.