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When employees email and surf the web with company computers, it is legal to monitor their usage, but is it ethical?
Monitoring can help prevent employee theft, sabotage, or lawsuits. For example, your company may be legally liable if an employee spends time on websites with illegal content, or downloads material from the Web that contains child pornography. Monitoring can provide proof that the company itself is not involved.
Staff may be allowed a few minutes of personal time on the Internet, as long as they don’t take advantage of the perk, but a few employees will abuse the privilege and use a lot of time on the Internet to shop, bank, chat, or resolve issues that are not related to their work. This can be expensive for employers. Online monitoring can help prevent staff from abusing company rules and policies.
Security and safety are also very important issues today’s workplace, as they are in the world at large. In view of recent workplace incidents and security issues, monitoring can actually save lives.
There is also a down side to monitoring employees. Employees may feel that monitoring is unethical and that employers don’t trust them and are “breathing down their necks.” This can cause resentment and discontent, which can decrease the productivity of your employees.
Information accidentally absorbed concerning an employee’s religion, sexual preference, and health problems can open your company to privacy violation and/or charges of discrimination, especially if you and your team react in a negative manner to the information.
If you decide to monitor your employees, tell them what you are doing and why you are doing it. Being open with your staff will help diffuse resentment and encourage their cooperation. Explain about the hazards faced by businesses from misuse of electronic assets.
Develop a Written Policy
Create a written policy on Internet usage that clearly states the rights and responsibilities of the staff and the employers.
Develop a policy that provides employees with information about when and how they can use personal time online at work. Set acceptable use rules for email, social media, web surfing, and instant messaging. Explain how monitoring will be implemented and how information will be deleted or destroyed. Give a copy to each employee to sign.
There are many devices on the market that monitor computer activity. Look for a software program that will signal an alert to warn you of risky behavior. For example, employee access to pornography or hate websites can create potential legal problems for your company. You might consider purchasing software that blocks this type of content.
It is legal to track and examine your employees’ internet usage for Web and email infractions however, the ethics of this practice may be in the ‘eye of the beholder.’
If you decide that it is necessary to monitor Internet usage, make sure it is with the full knowledge of your employees. Let them know that the purpose of monitoring is not to invade their personal information, but to build a safe, compliant and productive workplace.