The use of internet and email at work is now widespread. Whilst this has enabled quicker and easier communication and organisation, there are inherent risks.
It is reasonable to allow some private use of the work computer system however restrictions on its usage should be made clear. It is extremely important that employers have an internet and email policy in place which clearly sets out a list of prohibited uses of the internet and email system within the workplace and that any breach of the policy would be considered a disciplinary matter which could, in the most serious cases, lead to dismissal. Automated systems identifying unacceptable web usage, and website 'banned' lists are also advisable .
It is an offence to intercept worker’s communications, even on a work email account, unless employees have provided consent. Employers must therefore reserve the right to intercept and monitor emails and web usage in their internet and email policy and clearly set out the purposes for which such monitoring can be carried out.
Social media has also had an enormous impact on the workplace, with both positive and negative effects. Whilst social media can be a very powerful marketing tool, it has generated a number of concerns for employers. Employers need to put steps in place to ensure that confidential information is protected and not disseminated online, to ensure that employees do not tarnish their reputation by posting defamatory comments online and to ensure that employees do not make discriminatory comments about fellow colleagues online or use social media to bully or harass other employees.
Whilst employers cannot prohibit employees from using social media sites in their own private time, they can restrict access to such sites during normal working hours.
It is vital that employers set out in a suitable social media policy that employees who leak confidential company information or make overtly offensive comments about their employers on social media sites may be disciplined or, in the most serious cases, dismissed. It is irrelevant whether these actions occur during working hours, or in an employee’s own private time. It is also vital to set out in a Social Media Policy what is considered to be discrimination, bullying or harassment and that action will be taken against employees who are found to be discriminating against or ‘cyber bullying’ their colleagues.