Office Internet out of Control

One of the most common problems that faces Internet active businesses is the usage of the Internet by employees for purposes other than business. This subject takes many forms and can be as simple as shopping for vacation airline tickets to blatant visitation of websites that cater to potentially offensive material (adult). Another very insulting activity to your company is the employee who feels compelled to shop for a new job using your companies Internet connection, e-mail account, and while they are on your timeclock!

In our experience, this problem is most prevalent in businesses where employee's direct supervision is not always there to observe the activities of employees. When this happens it is not too uncommon to find people shopping on e-bay, checking their free mail service personal e-mail, loading up company mailboxes with daily jokes/political statements/pictures, visiting adult websites, and other time wasters.

Computer support companies make a small fortune correcting the actions of employees who install the latest spyware gadget that tells them the weather in suburbia or synchronizes the computers clock to an atomic clock somewhere. When these programs are running on your computer they have the potential of interfering with legitimate business programs.

Then we have the problem with spam or junk e-mail where we can refinance every loan that exists every eight seconds, purchase enough medication to build a bridge to the nearest star, or see the latest nude publicity stunt by a waning celebrity. Lets not forget the ever popular e-mail borne virus as a company favorite also.

Despite the temptation, removing the Internet from the office is not the answer. Establishing a company policy concerning the use of company communications tools (Internet, e-mail, postal mail, and telephone) is. The company needs to establish a policy, monitor activity, and most importantly, be serious about actually enforcing your company policy.

First off, is creating the company policy.

Next, what legal rights do companies have monitoring employee communications? Is this a violation of peoples privacy? Good question, and one that is a very hot topic of debate. The consensus being, employees might not have much legal protection. In 1986, Congress passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which basically gave employers the right to monitor electronic communications "in the ordinary course of business."

Most companies view their office computer and their network infrastructure as property of the employer and I think they have a solid argument for such. Furthermore, the time they are paying an employee is their time, too. For larger companies who host their own mail systems, a recent survey of more than 700 companies by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that almost three quarters of the surveyed companies monitor their workers' use of the Internet and check employee e-mail. According to the study, businesses offering financial services such as banks, brokerage houses, insurance firms and real estate companies are most likely to monitor their workers' communications.

ECS provides hosting plans that understand the needs of the small business and provides the tools to enable the monitoring of company e-mail resources.

Monitoring is not just limited to Internet and e-mail. As an employer, for the most part, you have every right to monitor voice mail and phone calls, too. While some states require informing the callers that a call might be monitored for quality control issues, federal law does not require such notification. However, under federal law, once an employer knows that a call is personal, any further monitoring of such a call is prohibited. The employer also has every right to prohibit the dialing of certain phone numbers or access to certain Internet sites (the most common being pornography).

Establish a company policy, inform employees about your policy, monitor activity, enforce the company policy.


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Modified 04/19/2005