Employee Internet Use

The internet is a valuable tool in most workplaces. It is a vast, quick and free source of information. While the information gleaned from a search is likely not to yield a definitive answer, it almost always provides a direction to the answer.

The problem is that the Internet is a huge distraction. It is an open and sometimes irresistible invitation for an employee to check his or her Facebook postings, check on a parent or child, order winter tires, book a vacation or many of thousands of other possibilities. Some of these possibilities are dangerous and very concerning in the workplace – there are places on the internet that should never be visited at work (some would say not even at home).

While the internet poses interesting challenges it is not the first and only distraction in the workplace. Employees have always, and still do, chat around the water cooler or coffee station. They have, and still do, use the telephone for personal calls. Clearly, there must be some reasonable give-and-take with respect to this form of interaction. The internet may actually reduce time spent on personal matters since a text message or quick e-mail (about an upcoming firm social function for example) is faster than a telephone call or conversation around the water cooler.

There are several issues employers should consider in determining whether to regulate texting, phoning, or internet use, including:

  • “theft of time”- any time used by an employee to attend to personal business deprives the employer of productivity at the direct expense of the employer;
  • exposure of the employer’s computers and networks to nasty viruses and malware;
  • a risk that social media accessed during the workday may be used to malign the employer or cause dissent in the workplace;
  • security risks entailed in the very rapid unauthorized transmission of sensitive information – what in the old days would require a moving van to transport can be sent with the click of a mouse.

What can be done?

  • For most employers it would not be practical to prohibit internet usage during working hours however, every employer should have an internet policy governing the use of the internet setting out what will happen to transgressors. If the policy is reasonable and consistently enforced, an employer should be able to terminate an employee for unauthorized internet use. The policy should allow employees to access the internet during breaks provided that policy also stipulates the type of sites that cannot be accessed.
  • Sensitive information should be safeguarded by passwords or restricted access.
  • Backups should be kept of all employee use in order to backtrack to discover inappropriate use or misuse of corporate information.
  • Subject to privacy concerns, tracking software can be used to monitor internet usage. We have dealt with privacy concerns in previous Alerts:

 Alf Kempf is the Chair of Pushor Mitchell’s Employment Law Group. He can be reached at 250-869-1215 or [email protected].

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