By: Santiago J. Padilla, Esq.
Some employees have computer and Internet access at their workplaces. There are workplaces that do not have employee-accessed computers, but supply WiFi hotspots for clients and customers to use with their personal devices. With all these possible Internet access points, what is and what is not acceptable for employees to access on the Internet? This is where employer Internet Use Policies (IUP) come into play.
Many employers have an Internet Use Policy in place to inform employees with Internet access what their limits are. IUPs can be written with very strict limits and employees are required to formally acknowledge they have received and read the IUP. Some employers don't bother with an IUP. Most employers fall between the two extremes.
What are the rules?
IUPs are employer specific. Each employer can decide what should be in an IUP depending on the business and location. Internet accessibility for the general public has been in place for only about 20 years. The laws enacted to deal with the Internet are varied and application depends on where in the world you are accessing and where in the world the accessed information is located. Internet source reliability is highly varied as well. There are many on-line Internet law sites that you can explore to learn about the law like Law.com and FindLaw.com. While not specifically endorsing these sites, it is useful to know that pertinent resources are available on the Internet.
Even with some knowledge about the law, we still have our issue about whether accessing the Internet for personal benefit at work is acceptable. Can you watch LeBron James and the Miami Heat do the "Harlem Shake" on YouTube from your workstation? A recently published current-events article in Law.com included a review about not only viewing videos of the "Harlem Shake", but also issues of making such a video while at work, during work hours. There is currently a Federal Aviation Administration investigation underway for a "Harlem Shake" video that was recorded on an airplane in mid-flight. This particular situation is considered a serious breach of safety protocol.
Can an employee view workplace acceptable Internet sites during their lunch break to catch up on local news on the MiamiHerald.com or CNN.com? Can an employee check these sites at other times? What about during a mid-afternoon break? What about a commercial interpretation of the Pirate's Code from Pirates of the Caribbean that says "the code is more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules."
Some common items in Internet Use Policies are:
- What is covered and what is not;
- Clear notice that all content that is created and accessed from an employer's computers is the property of the employer;
- Whether outside websites can or should be accessed;
That the employer has the right to monitor/search computers and Internet use records of all employees;
- That all employee access to the Internet is public use and there is no confidentiality of information;
- What the penalties are is an employee is caught accessing Internet sites or information forbidden by the IUP.
Just as doctors, lawyers, and teachers are required to take continuing education courses to remain up-to-date with the latest medical advances, newest laws and court decisions, and school rules and policies along with new teaching tricks, it is important for employers and employees to review the workplace code of conduct, Internet Use Policy, and other relevant materials to make sure both the employer and employees understand what is expected of each individual.
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If you have any questions regarding employment policies or employment law matters, please contact Santiago J. Padilla at 1-800-483-7197.