With the technology at employees’ fingertips, employers worry about whether their employees are engaging in personal Internet use during work hours.
In some cases, employees might engage in benign surfing and go on social network cites or play online games; this is disconcerting for the employer since it involves time theft, a waste of employer resources, and decreased productivity. Even if some Internet use is permitted within the company, such as some social networking for business purposes, it may be difficult to distinguish between this use and online personal Internet use at work.
In other cases, employees might engage in riskier surfing by visiting prohibited cites or take part in criminal conduct online. These situations are more problematic since they may require that the employer contact the authorities.
I recently read a legal case from the New Brunswick Court of Appeal where an employee of 14 years repeatedly disregarded company policy and accessed Internet pornography websites during work hours. The employer ultimately terminated him, and claimed that it had cause for the termination at the wrongful dismissal trial.
The court found that the employer was entitled to terminate the employee for cause. In this case, the employee received previous warnings threatening dismissal following other similar incidents. The employee’s actions amounted to a pattern of behaviour that destroyed the employer’s trust in him as a supervisor, and led to a fundamental breach of the employment contract. The employee argued that his employer condoned his behaviour by giving him positive performance reviews and salary increases each year; but the court found that the employer did not condone the conduct because the employer made it clear that the employee’s behaviour was not acceptable.
The case highlights the importance of monitoring employee Internet use, and warning/disciplining employees when the use is unacceptable.
Employers typically accomplish this goal by creating a company policy prohibiting certain kinds of Internet use, such as personal Internet use, the use of particular sites, etc. Employers are recommended to set out the disciplinary consequences of non-compliance, train employees on the policy, monitor employee Internet use, and consistently enforce the policy.
Along the same lines, I recently read that some entities, such as The Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, are considering making new rules that would allow firms to monitor employee activities on social networking sites. These firms plan on developing policies and procedures to ensure personnel are complying with regulatory requirements governing marketing while using social networking sites.
I’m wondering: does your company have a policy regarding personal Internet use during work hours? If so, do you have a monitoring system in place, and have you considered being a “friend” to employees who use social networking sites? Have you had to enforce your company policy?
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Assistant Editor