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The Balance: Work PCs, Non-Work Tasks

By: David Utter

Corporate masters want to keep their staff tethered to the computer for as long as possible, even going so far as to bring in a variety of perks to retain them in the office. Doing real life tasks on a work machine can bring an unenlightened response from the bosse

The Balance: Work PCs, Non-Work Tasks"It's our hardware and Net access, you'll use it in the way we tell you to or else. Now sign the Acceptable Use policy."

That could be one of any number of companies taking a stance on usage of their equipment for non-work tasks. From an extremely blinkered viewpoint, it's a fair way to manage people and their use of work technology.

Its basis in reality and the real lives people have away from work could be called 'tenuous' if there weren't a whole slang dictionary full of bad words to take its place. In the US, workers have to deal with at best monitored Internet usage; at worst, an actively running filter blocking nearly all Internet access.

There isn't much recourse in the US, where virtually all states operate on an at-will employment basis. If there's a policy against doing online banking, checking a home email account, or shopping for holiday gifts online, employers can get away with firing time-crunched employees for doing those things.

It wasn't quite that easy in Europe, where Techdirt noted how the British government received a slap in the face just for monitoring a woman's calls and Internet usage (she retained her position). The reason for the slap: human rights violations.

A story on the case of Lynette Copland, which started in 1999, found that the monitoring of her personal communications were counter to European human rights legislation. She won a judgment of over 9,000 euros.

Although businesses can monitor their systems for business communications, a privacy specialist cited by said the court suggested there is an exception in play:

Dr Chris Pounder, a privacy specialist, said: "The lawful business practice regulations allow an employer to monitor and intercept business communications, so the court is implying that private use of a telecommunications system, assuming it is authorized via an acceptable-use policy, can be protected [by human rights legislation].

"The ruling is important in that it reinforces the need for a statutory basis for any interference with respect to private use of a telecommunications system by an employee."

Copland's workplace did not have a policy in place, which left the government, and the UK taxpayers who will end up footing the judgment, exposed. Companies that do not have a codified acceptable use policy in place should draft one.

Companies that do have a policy or more stringent (or draconian) measures in effect should try to remember that their profitability comes from people. Workers who perform their duties well don't need to be shackled from blowing off some steam or taking care of personal business on the firm's PCs.

Weed out bad performers, but let the good ones have some balance in their workday lives.


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View All Articles by David Utter

About the Author:
David Utter is a staff writer for InternetFinancialNews and WebProNews covering technology and business.

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