Internet enforcement policies and the bottom line

E-mail, instant messaging, Internet access and sharing electronic files are critical to operating a modern business. However, time-wasting or “cyber-slacking” — such as accessing inappropriate Web sites, participating in online auctions or sending personal e-mail — also can hinder business activities and expose the company to liability.

Additionally, the unauthorized and undiscovered transfer of proprietary information could result in the loss of trade secrets and business advantage. Thus companies would be well advised to create and enforce Internet and e-privacy rules and monitor their employees’ computer use.

Your business could be experiencing significant productivity loss due to cyber-slacking. For instance, a company with 100 Internet users and an average per-employee salary of $30,000 could lose nearly $200,000 per year in productivity if its employees spent just half an hour of non-work-related Internet surfing per day.

Several courts have indicated that companies would benefit from monitoring their employees’ computer use, but because many companies lack proper computer-use policies, e-privacy lawsuits against employers are a real risk.

The best way to avoid legal claims by employees for violation of their e-privacy is to develop e-mail and Internet use policies that define the employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy in the use of company computer and network, e-mail and Internet systems.

Key points to include in an e-mail and Internet use policy include:

• Employees should not consider e-mail or Internet use at work or on work computers and/or network systems private.

• All e-mail messages and data stored on company workstations and the company network are company property and are therefore subject to monitoring at any time.

• Prohibit employees from viewing, downloading or saving from the Internet or e-mail anything of a harassing, intimidating, offensive or discriminatory nature.

• Prohibit employees from sending chain letters, gambling or engaging in any other activity in violation of state and/or federal law.

• All improper and/or inappropriate uses of the company’s computers and/or network, including e-mail and Internet, can result in disciplinary action up to, and including, termination from employment.

Jeffrey W. Peters is a partner with Preti Flaherty in Portland, Maine, and practices with the labor and employment group. For more information on e-privacy or employment law, contact him at

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