Assignments: Policy Memo

Technical Writing


Please Note: This assignment has five options. Please choose one of the options.

Option 1: Workplace Privacy

Learning Goals

In performing and completing this assignment, you should:

    • Learn about the current understanding of the "expectation of privacy" in the workplace;
    • Learn to make clear, useful recommendations based on your research;
    • Learn to use and to modify memo structure.

You have recently been hired The Williams Group, a technical writing firm.

Susan Williams, President of the firm, has asked you to write a concise, formal memo regarding e-mail use, Internet use and "the expectation of privacy" in the corporate workplace. Williams' request was inspired by reading this artcle in Slate.

As The Williams Group has reached a certain level of growth, the company must codify its communications policies. Williams wants you to perform initial research on the general state of affairs regarding e-mail use, Internet use and the expectation of privacy in the corporate workplace.

Most importantly, you are to develop a working set of recommendations (that may be modified later), based on your research, for new employees regarding their use of e-mail and the Internet at work.

Williams offers a series of questions to get you thinking, but wants you to choose the focus of your memo based on your interests and experience, your research and, ultimately, your recommendations.

    • Generally, what do employees assume about their privacy in the workplace?
    • What assumptions about privacy do employees typically have about e-mail and Internet use?
    • Is e-mail and Internet use typically monitored by private companies or public agencies? If use is monitored, why? Are there specific situations that might trigger monitoring? What are they? How do the technologies work that monitor use? Must employees be notified if they are being monitored?
    • What does the United States Constitution say about workplace privacy? What do the courts say? Are there cases pertaining to the use of e-mail and the Internet and the expectation of privacy? What are they?
    • Is workplace communication a different concept than, say, communication between individuals? How?
    • Do you see a common attitude or set of policies regarding e-mail and Internet use, and the expectation of privacy, that The Williams Group should adapt? What are your recommendations?

Option 1 Requirements

Due June 11 by midnight:

    • A 250-500 word memo;
    • A cover memo (document file).

Please send all files to me — jim.collier@vt.edu — as document attachments in either .doc or .docx format.
I will use this grading rubric (document file) to evaluate the assignment.


Option 2: Off-Duty Conduct

Learning Goals

In performing and completing this assignment, you should:

    • Learn about the current understanding of corporate policy regarding employee monitoring;
    • Learn to make clear, useful recommendations based on your research;
    • Learn to use and to modify memo structure.

You have recently been hired by Home Solutions, a home building supply firm. While the firm has grown tremendously in the last five years, and talk began of going public, the owners have decided to remain in the private sector.

Steve Jones, President of the firm, has asked you to write a concise, formal memo regarding monitoring employees' off-duty conduct. The performance of a few recent hires has been staggeringly poor. Jones wants to know if background research can be performed into employees' lives outside the firm.

Of course, the idea of monitoring employees' off-duty conduct is extremely sensitive. What Jones wants is for you to discreetly perform some initial research on the general state of affairs regarding what (or if) a private company can legally do to find out about employees' private activities. And once that information is known, what, if anything, the company can do as a result.

Jones, then, wants you to develop a working set of recommendations (that may be modified later) for management action based on your findings. To get you started, Jones points to this article about a decision in California involving an employee who alleged she was dismissed from a company because of her membership in a private investment group. And here's another article. In addition, Jones offers a series of questions to help you along, but wants you to choose the focus of your memo based on your research, your analysis and, ultimately, your recommendations.

    • Generally, can private companies monitor anything about an employee's private life? Can we perform research on a potential employee's private life at the time of hiring? What about after hiring?
    • Can private drug use be legally monitored? How?
    • Can we find out if an employee is "moonlighting?" Is moonlighting a terminating offense?
    • Can we monitor if the employee is somehow involved in union activity?
    • Can we find out if an employee has been arrested for activities unrelated to the firm? If so, what action can we take?

Option 2 Requirements

Due June 11 by midnight:

    • A 250-500 word memo;
    • A cover memo (document file).

Please send all files to me — jim.collier@vt.edu — as document attachments in either.doc or .docx format.
I will use this grading rubric (document file) to evaluate the assignment.


Option 3: Distributing Literature

Learning Goals

In performing and completing this assignment, you should:

    • Learn about the current understanding of corporate policy regarding the posting and distribution of personal literature;
    • Learn to make clear, useful recommendations based on your research;
    • Learn to use and to modify memo structure.

The following scenario is based on the situation described in this 2004 article by Rosenberg and Manier from the Los Angeles Daily Journal. Quoted passages are taken from the article.

You have recently been hired by Data Management Consultants — a growing electronic networking firm.

Anne Smith, President of the firm, is revising the employee manual. The process of rewriting the manual, and a recent event related to employee conduct, occasions your office visit.

A few weeks ago Data Management Consultants began displaying "diversity posters" in the office as part of a workplace diversity campaign. "Five of these posters showed pictures of company employees above different captions: 'Black,' 'Blonde,' 'Hispanic,' 'Old' and 'Gay.'"

"The 'Gay' poster apparently irked" an employee, a fundamentalist Christian who believes homosexuality violates the Bible's commandments. Claiming he was duty-bound 'to expose evil when confronted with sin,' the employee posted several scriptural quotations in large typeface at his work cubicle. These included a passage from Leviticus which describes male homosexual acts as an 'abomination' punishable by death."

"The employee's supervisor removed these passages from the cubicle because they violated Data Management Consultants policy against 'comments or conduct related to a person's race, gender, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation, or ethnic background that fail to respect the dignity and feeling[s] of the individual.'"

Smith has asked you to look into the incident (please use Rosenberg and Manier's article as an initial basis) and, more importantly, to perform research on a related, but broader, issue: The distribution and posting of literature (defined broadly and of a personal nature), messages or religious passages in the workplace. Smith wants you to write a memo to her that gives your recommendations, based on your research, as to what policies she should articulate in the employee manual on this issue.

Option 3 Requirements

Due June 11 by midnight:

    • A 250-500 word memo;
    • A cover memo (document file).

Please send all files to me — jim.collier@vt.edu — as document attachments in either .doc or .docx format.
I will use this grading rubric (document file) to evaluate the assignment.


Option 4: Hostile Environment

Learning Goals

In performing and completing this assignment, you should:

    • Learn about the current understanding of what constitute a hostile workplace;
    • Learn to make clear, useful recommendations based on your research;
    • Learn to use and to modify memo structure.

You have recently been hired by Green and Growing — an environmental engineering firm.

Scott Baker, President of the firm, is developing an employee manual. You have been asked to perform research on what components are necessary to include in a no harassment policy. Baker does not want you to write the policy. Rather, he asks that you perform preliminary research on, and provide recommendations regarding, what components — definitions, prohibitions, responsibilities, avenues for complaint and the like — should comprise a no harassment, or safe workplace, policy.

Option 4 Requirements

Due June 11 by midnight:

    • A 250-500 word memo;
    • A cover memo (document file).

Please send all files to me — jim.collier@vt.edu — as document attachments in either .doc or .docx format.
I will use this grading rubric (document file) to evaluate the assignment.


Option 5: Continuing Education

Learning Goals

In performing and completing this assignment, you should:

    • Learn about the current understanding of corporate policy regarding the continuing education;
    • Learn to make clear, useful recommendations based on your research;
    • Learn to use and to modify memo structure.

You have recently been hired by Watkins and Anderson — a marketing consulting firm.

Sarah Watkins, President of the firm has asked you to perform research on, and provide recommendations regarding, a company policy on continuing education for support staff. Given how quickly computing and information technologies change, continuing education for staff is a necessity. Watkins wants some sense of how corporations handle this need.

Your memo, then, will provide a summary, and set of recommendations for how to handle the continuing education of support staff at Watkins and Anderson.

Before you leaving the office, Watkins offers a series of questions that she has in mind for you to consider but not necessarily answer. The memo's focus is determined by your interests, research and recommendations:

    • How often do computer common software skills need to be updated?
    • Do most corporations handle this training in-house or do staff take courses at local colleges and universities?
    • Can continuing education be handled on-line? What resources are available?
    • How much time off of work for training do employees expect? What reasonable accommodations do we have to make?
    • Does the company have to pay for this training? How much? Are scholarships available? Should staff be charged?
    • What is the relationship between job satisfaction and continued training?
    • What kinds of continuing education are most effective?

Option 5 Requirements

Due June 11 by midnight:

    • A 250-500 word memo;
    • A cover memo (document file)

Please send all files to me — jim.collier@vt.edu — as document attachments in either .doc or .docx format.
I will use this grading rubric (document file) to evaluate the assignment.