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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Computers At Work

The Cost of Computer Misuse

David Berlind reported that Websense — a company that sells solutions that help managers crackdown on unauthorized usage of the Internet — issued the following statement: "Websense, Inc., the world’s leading provider of employee internet management solutions, today announced that internet misuse in the workplace costs American corporations more than $178 billion annually in lost productivity." (ZD Net, CBS Interactive Inc., July 19 2005)

Chen Bin from The Business Times Online added this hypothetical:

 "An employee with a monthly salary of $3,000 costs the company about $20.70 per hour. If he spends 30 minutes accessing the Internet on non-work related websites each day, the wastage to the company is $10.40 per employee daily - or $217.50 a month. For a company with 200 employees, the wastage will amount to $43,500 a month or $522,000 a year, representing up to 6.25 per cent of the company's annual wage costs."

Companies Can and Do Monitor Work Computers

Chris Minnock of Internet Evolution (September 21, 2009) said, "Legally speaking, employers have the right to monitor employee computer activities without their knowledge. It’s a good idea for companies to specify in the employee handbook that they may do this -- even if they actually don’t." It’s also a good idea for employees to behave as if all of their communications on company equipment are being monitored -- even if they probably aren’t. Many companies do monitor and/or filter employee Internet activities. Other companies only monitor employees’ activities when they suspect a problem. (

Companies, of course, see a definite need for monitoring. Not only can employee misuse of e-mail and the Net put pressure on company bandwidth to the point where Internet connection speed slows to a crawl, it can also hamper employee productivity. Misuse may even threaten security. And, even worse, misuse can leave employers open to criminal proceedings and civil litigation. Internet use in the workplace is a grey area and it is important to attempt to bring use under control in a way that's fair both to employees and to the company.

Still, the Line Is Blurred 

Most employers allow a certain amount of personal use of office resources such as phones and computers; however often the line is not specifically drawn. Where is the line? And, what charges are made and penalties enforced when such a line is crossed? Obviously, an employee must be familiar with the company's computer use policies.

Freeman Klopott of Medill News Service (May 2, 2006) reports that the growing list of communications technologies that links workers to the workplace 24/7 increasingly is adding to blurring the lines between work and home. Employees surf the Web at work, check the weather, make travel plans, and shop. Reported, one woman even ordered controversial personal prescriptions at work on the computer. At home, many send e-mail, continue their work chores on the Internet, and otherwise stay connected with their professional lives.

Judge John B. Spooner, a New York City administrative law judge who recently ruled in a case of an employee who allegedly used the Internet for personal reasons during work hours that Internet use at work can be compared to reading a newspaper or making a telephone call. Spooner recommended that Toquir Choudhri, a 14-year veteran of the city Department of Education, receive the slightest reprimand for insubordination, even though supervisors wanted him fired for using the Internet for personal matters after he was told not to.

Actual Court Cases

 Now, are you ready for some true horror stories about misuse of the Internet at work?

1996 misuse of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory computers was by far the most prevalent ethics violation. "Of 93 ethics investigations in 1996, 21 involved allegations of computer misuse. Seventeen allegations were substantiated. Six involved improper e-mail, Forum and newsgroup postings; four stemmed from use of computers for personal gain; four resulted from accessing or downloading pornography; two involved unauthorized home pages; and one resulted from unauthorized software." (JPL Ethics Briefs,, Volume 2 Issue 1 - April 25, 1997)

 In 2000, the US oil giant Chevron was forced to pay $2.2 million (plus legal fees) in compensation to four of their employees who took exception to a sexist e-mail entitled "24 reasons why beer is better than women" that had been forwarded to them by work colleagues.("Equipment,", April 1 2005)

Stephanie Armour of USA Today (October 18, 2007) reported, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged that Sierra Aluminum fired a six-year employee after she reported that an assistant manager had viewed pornography on his company computer. The company paid $200,000 to settle the matter.

In another case, the EEOC alleged that First Mutual, a mortgage company, subjected a male employee to a sexually hostile work environment, sexual harassment by a female co-worker and retaliatory firing when he complained. According to the lawsuit, the alleged harasser e-mailed nude photos of herself and of another woman to the man's company computer. (Stephanie Armour, USA Today, October 18 2007)

Some Research Findings on the Internet At Work

Research on Internet use at work cited by Business Wire (ClearSwift,, December 5 2007) reported the following:

Results highlights:
  • 64 percent of U.S. companies deny their employees access to social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo
  • 54 percent of HR decision makers have encountered or have had to discipline employees for time-wasting on the Internet
  • 14 percent have had to discipline staff for data loss and 7 percent for posting inappropriate content on social sites but only 36 percent have a policy covering such usage
  • 23 percent of HR decision makers are unfamiliar with Web 2.0 technologies such as YouTube, Facebook, and Wikipedia
These findings caused Business Wire to urge businesses and HR departments to take a sensible approach to the risks posed by social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. The research also emphasized that in todays competitive environment, businesses cannot simply lock down access to Web 2.0 services; rather, they must embrace them and harness sophisticated content security solutions to protect themselves while allowing the business to enjoy the benefits these new technologies can provide.

"5 Ways Your Computer Use Can Get You Fired"

By Liz Wolgemuth (March 11, 2008) U.S. News and World Report

This article has been condensed to a list. Get full information at

1. Blog it up.

2. Play away. (games)

3. Look at pics. (especially offensive content)

4. Post your pics. (especially anything that runs contrary to company values)

5. Write r-rated E-mails. (even inappropriate or offensive language)

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