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Are your employees surfing the Internet during work hours?


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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?

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Assistant Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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2 thoughts on “Are your employees surfing the Internet during work hours?
  • Adam Gorley says:

    I think that’s absolutely right Susan!

    A person who is unsatisfied with her work will do everything she can to avoid doing it–and access to the internet makes that very easy. But a person who is happy with her job–who finds it challenging, satisfying, rewarding, &c.–will give everything she can to her work, and will rarely think about slacking off.

    I think the work culture and environment can play a huge part in the equation, too. That is, even if a worker isn’t completely engaged by the work itself, she might identify with the company or her co-workers in such a way that she still wants to offer her best.

  • Susan Trevers says:

    My neice is a brilliant teenager from a popular school. She was recently hired for a co-op job where the boss is too busy to give her much work most days. So she spends the day on social networking sites or using the company phone to chat with friends. I do not blame her at all for this situation.

    When we hire the brightest minds but cannot find enough challenging work to keep those minds busy, they need to find something interesting to fill the 8 hour days.

    Yes, there is a minor percentage of employees who would shirk work. But the vast majority would prefer to go home at the end of each day with the satisfaction that they made a significant contribution at work.