Telecom Ethics Survey Results Revealed, Part 2:
What Peers Say About Requests to Delete Voicemails,
Sept. 13, 2007 (Vol. 28, No. 18)
You try a three-way conference call but get only voicemail for one of the expected participants on the call. Thinking you hung up this person’s line, you continue a conversation with the other person that includes hurtful remarks. Then you realize your conversation is being recorded.
Paula Loendorf, director of information services at the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque, found herself in just this situation. She had her unintentional voicemail message deleted before it could be played, rationalizing that “it would have been very embarrassing and hurtful to somebody.”
What would you have done if this were you? Better yet, what if the voicemail message was unintentionally left by your enterprise’s CEO while using his cell phone and he asked you to delete it?
You would delete the errant message by your CEO if you were like more than three quarters (76%) of your peers. At least that’s how many of the 226 communications technology pros to respond to Voice Report’s recent Telecom Ethics Survey say they would handle such a request from their enterprise’s chief exec. And 17 (7%) of the survey respondents, who say they would decline the CEO’s request to delete the message, say they would change their position and acquiesce if the message contained confidential business intelligence.
Interestingly, however, telecom managers do not feel so compelled to help a CEO who merely wants to play a voicemail from an end user's mailbox. Just 54% say they would assist with this request. [See chart on what telecom managers would do when faced with 5 moral quandaries]
We told you in a previous issue of Voice Report how your peers would handle one common ethical dilemma [VR 8/30/07]. Here’s how they say they would handle two others, as well as what our HR and legal experts say you should do:
HR Expert: Don’t Delete Unless Trade Secrets Divulged
Voicemail is company property, many telecom managers say. End users have been warned to have no expectation of privacy. Consider the language contained in Orange, Conn.-based Hubbell’s policy, as shared by telecom manager Jeff Mazzabufi. Users must sign the document every year, he says:
“Employees should be aware that Company property includes all data and communications transmitted or received to or by, or contained in, the Company’s electronic or telephonic systems or by written media. Employees or other users of this property have no expectation of privacy with respect to these communications and data. To the extent permitted by law, the Company has the ability, and reserves the right, to monitor all electronic and telephonic communication. These communications may also be subject to disclosure to law enforcement or government officials.”
More than a few telecom managers say they would check with an individual before deleting anything in his or her voicemail box because, as Rody Kemple, voice telecom manager at Montvale, N.J.-based Benjamin Moore & Co., puts it, “the user will know since the password will have to be changed.” Meanwhile, several others report that they would reach out to the human resources or legal department for guidance.
So, what would your HR representative say? In the case of a CEO leaving hurtful remarks in a voicemail, your HR rep would tell you “absolutely” not to delete the message if he were Steven Kane, an arbitrator and consultant with 30 years of employment law and HR expertise.
Deleting voicemail to help your CEO save face likely would violate the records retention policy that your enterprise should have in place to preserve communications in the event of a lawsuit [VR 5/14/07], Kane asserts. No reasonable retention policy would dictate that messages are deleted 20 seconds after they’re left, and you’d have a hard time explaining in a lawsuit why “we kept this kind of message, but not the ones that hurt us,” he says.
Kane changes his vote, however, when it comes to protecting “trade secrets” – such as a message prematurely telling of a business unit’s divestiture. The deletion of a message containing proprietary information is outside HR’s employee-conduct scope, he says. Consult your legal department on this one instead, he advises.
Consider adding language to your data retention policy that carves out an exception for voicemails inadvertently recorded by equipment error, recommends 10-year litigator and information retention specialist Conrad Jacoby, founder of efficientEDD, in Dunn Loring, Va. This will leave room for an attorney to argue that unintentional voicemails don’t need to be preserved like other business communications.
56% Would Not Transfer BlackBerry Contacts
So now that you’ve decided how you would handle an errantly left voicemail, how helpful are you going to be when a newly hired sales rep asks for your help in transferring leads from his old company’s BlackBerry?
See the movie “Jerry Maguire,” suggests Francis Salandanan, assistant to the VP of information support services at Mount St. Mary’s College, in Los Angeles. Salandanan would take pity on the salesman, who – like Tom Cruise’s character in the aforementioned movie – just wants to help your business.
Too bad a slightly larger number (56%) of telecom managers surveyed disagree. “I have no allegiance to [the BlackBerry-toting salesman] or to his cheating his old company,” says Peggy Baker, telecom manager at New York City-based CBS Interactive. “I would probably rat him out to my management.”
Others are amenable to transferring the contacts so long as the end user didn’t sign a non-compete clause with his former employer. But can you really take the end user’s word that he didn’t sign anything?
HR expert/attorney Kane recommends against transferring contacts because, he says, it would mean aiding in the transfer of proprietary information between companies, which could lead to a lawsuit over “covenant not to compete” laws and the “duty of loyalty” the end user has not to lie or steal from his former employer.
The business contacts are probably fair game if the salesman isn’t barred from using them under a non-compete or confidentiality agreement and it’s the salesperson’s personal device, Jacoby says. More likely, though, the salesperson has agreed not to contact any of the sales leads in question for a certain time period, the attorney says. In that case, you can transfer the contacts to the new device, and it’s up to the salesperson to refrain from using them until the time period is up.Or, to preempt this dilemma, your enterprise could take the same tack as one whose telecom manager asks to remain anonymous. “We always wipe a device clean before adding it to the network,” says the telecom manager. “If the employee was tech-savvy enough to archive his former contacts and then export them to his contact list, then he could do that himself.” (