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Labour law | Internet abuse in the workplace


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By Carol Tissiman

If you are interested in this topic, take a look at our University of Cape Town (Law@Work) Practical Labour Law course.

Gone are the days of a select few senior employees having access to the internet, leaving the rest of the staff to work productively offline. The use of the Internet and email facilities by employees in the workplace is now a standard occurrence, and in many cases vital to the survival of the business. E-mail facilities and Internet access have significantly broadened an employee’s access to information, and the Internet has allowed employees virtually unrestricted access to the World Wide Web from their computers.

About Internet abuse

Internet abusers range from the administration assistant in a cubicle that spends two hours a day posting comments and uploading photos on popular social networking sites like Facebook, to senior management in labour law courseprivate offices viewing pornography. Internet abuse is common in the workplace amongst employees, and organisations are being forced to face the problem head on, or suffer the consequences.

While the use by employees of electronic communications tools for non-business purposes will not necessarily increase direct costs to the company significantly, the hidden and contingent costs to a company are potentially enormous: lost productivity and potential exposure to law suits emanating from third parties as a result of inappropriate use of these tools being the most dominant.

To reduce these potential risks and losses, companies must address the issue of how best to control employee use of electronic communications tools. Clearly, there is a need to reduce internet misuse in the workplace.

How to reduce Internet abuse:
It is recommended that companies take three steps to address the problem of misuse of the internet and e-mail resources:labour law advert

1. Establish an internet and e-mail usage policy;
2. Monitor employees internet usage; and
3. Enforce the policy effectively.

By articulating what is permissible and what is not in an internet and email usage policy, a company may be able to demonstrate that certain activities engaged in by its employees fall outside the course and scope of their employment with the company.

Make employees aware
It is vital for employees to be made aware that all systems are provided by the company and are the property of the company. Therefore, all communication and information transmitted and stored in these systems are to be used for job-related communications only. The company thus has the right to monitor all communication and information sent and received on these systems. This, however, gives rise to the issue of employee privacy in the workplace. South Africa’s case law is lacking in precedent on the issue of privacy in the workplace insofar as electronic communications tools (e-mail and the Internet) are concerned. A number of arbitration cases however illustrate the view that the courts will be more accommodating of employer monitoring of internet and e-mail activity, provided fair procedures are followed. The monitoring of employee Internet use has become a common practice of many of the larger employers.

This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution license.


Comments 

#1 2010-12-06 16:09
Monitoring employees internet usage can be made possible if the company will put up an effective time tracking system for this purpose. The employees will likely comply if you let all employees know about the system installed so they would know what's expected of them.
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#2 2010-12-06 16:10
Quoting Employee Web Monitoring:
Monitoring employees internet usage can be made possible if the company will put up an effective time tracking system for this purpose. The employees will likely comply if you let all employees know about the system installed so they would know what's expected of them.

Here's a related article about the subject --
http://www.timedoctor.com/blog/2010/11/18/how-to-successfully-monitor-your-employees-internet-usage
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#3 2011-04-29 22:04
You're absolutely right about the three steps required to cut abuse, but employers always fail the final step - enforcement. The reasons are that it's simply too difficult to dig up all the logs and painstakingly put them together to form a case against an employee. The exception to this is CryptaVault (for whom I worked for a while), who developed a clever system for spotting the serial abusers and stopping them dead in their tracks. More at www.cryptavault.com
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#4 2013-10-31 11:26
Sometimes the employer does go to the trouble of scrutinizing the logs to catch the employee...
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