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 private 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.
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.
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