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An Employer's Rights: Surfing All The Day

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I employ about 30 staff and all of them have internet access. I monitor their internet use. My IT person has told me that in the weeks before Xmas internet use by my staff heavily increased. I'm concerned they were spending work time surfing the internet to do their Xmas shopping. What can I do to prevent this sort of thing happening?

  • A trend has evolved among today's tech savvy generation of workers to view personal use of the internet at work as a right rather than a privilege. A Dominion Post investigation indicated that government workers spend at least 35,000 hours a year on online auction sites. That is equivalent to a year's work for more than 18 full time staff, about one million dollars in lost productivity. With the arrival of the Christmas shopping season last year, some employees may have been excessively using the internet at work to do their Christmas shopping.
  • You would be wise to have a policy allowing personal internet use. You need to make sure employees know the policy. While some limited personal use will often be anticipated and permitted, you could think about restricting the amount of time, or the times of day, when employees can use work internet facilities for personal use. Breach of the policy could be grounds for disciplinary action.
  • If you already have a policy, you should reiterate it to your employees. Also, think about reminding them again of the policy at the beginning of this year's Christmas season. Employees should be regularly reminded that the computer systems, internet facilities and software applications they are using are company property and should be used in accordance with company policy. Consequences for those who violate email and internet policies should also be established and well publicised.
  • If an employee breaches the internet usage policy you need to investigate their usage very carefully. You also need to carefully consider and investigate any explanation the employee has for their usage. Depending on the investigation and the employee's explanation, there may be grounds for disciplinary action.

Our thanks to Anna Wilson for this article. Anna is a solicitor in the employment team of transtasman law firm, Phillips Fox.

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