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Employees, computer usage, and you

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What do you do about employees who use your email, Internet and computer resources as their personal toys? Do you have the right to monitor their computer usage, and how do you do so without violating their privacy? This is a relatively new subject matter in courts these days and the determinations can be rather murky in this area, but here are some smart steps you can take:

Have a written policy. Businesses can prove an easy target for wrongful termination lawsuits unless they set down clear written policies for employee behavior. These policies should include a clear, thorough statement regarding employees’ use of company computers, Internet services and communications channels.

Track computer usage — carefully. In general, if computer equipment and systems are owned by the company, there is little expectation of privacy of use, and  you certainly have the right to look at how much bandwidth a given employee is taking up on a daily basis and whether that bandwidth goes toward work-related activities.

Give fair warning. When you create your policy on computer usage, include a clear description of what may happen if employees abuse these privileges.   A commonly used approach is to state in your policy(s) that violation of the policy(s) may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Document everything. Keep written records of policy violations, notes from reprimand meetings and termination procedures as they occur, with details such as dates, times, statements and decisions made.

We had to fire an employee who spent an inordinate amount of time sending personal emails, documenting every step of the process. We tracked the employee’s computer usage (without reading emails) to confirm it, we reprimanded the employee, and when they continued to violate policy we let the employee go. The system works – if you use it.

Dan Hettrich is the director of sales at Acadia HR located in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at or 512-745-2985.

Written by Dan Hettrich

February 22, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized