With the Internet being such an integral part of modern business, almost every company—from micro to enterprise—will at some point have to deal with the issue of managing employee Internet usage. It’s one of those hidden drains on a business’ productivity.
Whether it’s social media, online shopping or email, we are all increasingly consumed by the Internet and connected to our devices. Combine this with the growing move towards BYOD, and employers need to find a way to manage this seemingly unstoppable trend.
As an employer, can you really afford to let staff spend one to two hours a day browsing the Internet for personal use? You may want to think that your employees apply some self-regulation, but without monitoring how would you ever know?
In the UK and the US, what does the law say employers can do when it comes to Internet monitoring?
According to Gov.UK and the Information Commissioner’s Office, as an employer you are allowed to monitor Internet and email usage and read content, provided employees know it’s happening and so long as the business has a legitimate reason for doing so. These reasons may include monitoring to detect excessive private Internet and email usage during working hours, but may also include needing to detect criminal activity and to detect viruses and other types of malware.
In the U.S., local legislation varies depending on the state, but in general, it is legal for a company to monitor the usage of its own property, including computers, laptops, and cell phones. The Federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) states that an employer-provided computer system is the property of the employer. Therefore, employers that provide an employee with a computer system and Internet access may be free to monitor almost everything that an employee does with that equipment. This is not the only regulation governing this and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer advocacy and education center based in San Diego, provides insight into some of the wider issues here.
It is good practice for an employer to outline its businesses Internet and email usage policy in the company handbook and clearly states whether email and Internet usage is monitored.
As an employer, if you decide to monitor Internet and email access, you must ensure your employees are aware you are doing this and to what extent. The easiest way to help make your employees knowledgeable is to include your policy in the staff handbook and ensure all employees read and understand its content. This should be part of your standard employee induction and training process.
It’s all well and good telling employees that all Internet and email usage is monitored but how do they know what’s acceptable? Do you allow use of Facebook® and other social media during lunch breaks from desk computers or is it banned completely? Is it ok for staff to access these sites using their mobiles during work hours? What types of sites are they not allowed to access? Write a very simple and short Internet and email usage policy.
Having a clear procedure for dealing with a violation of your Internet usage policy makes life easier for you and outlines clearly for all employees what the consequences are if they fail to comply with your internal policies.
As a business owner or manager, having clear policies regarding Internet usage made readily available in the company handbook will make it easy for employees to find out what’s acceptable in your workplace. Internet misuse is an ever-growing, but manageable, issue.
Ian Waters is a senior partner at MSP Southern IT Networks Ltd and works as the technical director. Ian has been working in IT for over 15 years since finishing his Degree in computer science and artificial intelligence. An Office 365 expert and author of the book Microsoft® Office 365®—Exchange™ Online Implementation and Migration—Second Edition. You can follow Ian on his personal blog here.
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