Restriction and Monitoring of Internet Use in the Workplace
The Internet is a very powerful medium which can aid employees in being productive in their respective works. At the same time, this medium can be an open invitation to employees to waste time while at the office and within working time. Thus, the problem of regulating and monitoring employees’ Internet usage for non-work related activities faces employers because employees are defending their activities in the context of privacy. However, employers have the right to restrict and monitor the Internet usage of their employees to prevent cases of Internet abuse from happening.
Without a doubt, Internet has many advantages to offer to a company’s operations. The electronic mail (e-mail) can facilitate faster and efficient communication within the organization. Employers can keep track of their competition by using the search engines. The company also saves costs for the operations because Internet facilitates efficient transfer of data and automation of human tasks. Establishing its own web site can also provide a company a wider reach to their customers from wherever to wherever in the world (Gindin, 1999).
However, there are cases wherein employees are tempted to use the Internet for personal reasons within their shift in the office. When work is slow and the bosses are not around, some employees cannot help opening another window to surf clothes online or play games. Other non-work related activities that employees engage in include downloading files, pictures, or pornography, purchasing products online, sending personal e-mail messages, gambling, and so on. But the problems that usually arise have something to do with Internet use and e-mail in the workplace. And when these problems arise, employees question why their bosses have to monitor and restrict their use of the Internet (Gindin, 1999).
Inappropriate Use of the Internet in the Workplace
In some cases, some employees find the time to inappropriately use the Internet during their work hours on top of what they are expected to do. What constitutes inappropriate use of Internet may vary from one company to another, however, one similarity prevails: inappropriate in such a way that it does not help in the performance of the company. For instance, viewing or having access to sexually explicit material is inappropriate for all companies. Violation of the provisions of the company is also inappropriate. Violations can include violation of user privacy, violation of security systems, violation of policies, misuse of the Internet for malicious purposes, use of foul language, posting or sending threatening or libelous messages and so on. These activities not only disrupt the network and systems, but these also pose a legal liability to the employers (Avon-Washington Township Public Library, 2008).
Furthermore, inappropriate use of the Internet involves certain activities that are sometimes ground for suspension or termination of employees who violate. These activities include spamming, mail bombing, impersonation, harassment, violations of privacy, and unfriendly activity on the Internet (OnLine, 1996). Other more specific inappropriate use of the Internet will be discussed.
It pays when employees are responsible enough to prevent such things from happening or from compromising the company. In every company, there are rules or policies which clearly define how employees are expected to behave in terms of Internet usage. These are sometimes called as “netiquettes,” which spell out the proper behavior whether it is when sending e-mail messages or chatting. It is always necessary for a person to be courteous and respectful when online. Internet users are also not encouraged to shout through the use of capital letters. In the online world, sending words with capital letters is rude as it implies shouting (Shoemaker-Galloway, 2007).
Another netiquette to follow is to think deeply before posting. This is to prevent the user from being haunted after doing so. There were instances in the past when some prospective employees were rejected from a job position they were applying for because the employer was not pleased with a photograph that they posted on their personal web sites. Interestingly, many employers today are checking the social networking sites before they hire. Aside from this, it also helps to keep personal information private. This is especially important to prevent users from experiencing identity theft. In some cases, Internet users post sensitive and personal information where they can be easily read and copied by others. These are just some of the netiquettes that users must follow (Shoemaker-Galloway, 2007).
As Christians, we are guided by our values and beliefs whenever we take endeavors and do activities. When it comes to Internet usage, Christians must likewise be guided by what Jesus teaches about proper behavior. In Matthew 5-7, Jesus taught Christians to always do good deeds, and those who follow His teachings will be blessed. Those who obey Him will be given reward in heaven. In the same way, Christians must be pure in heart and turn away from evil. By being pure-hearted, they will be able to experience God (New International Version).
Furthermore, as children of God, Christians must be the role model for those who are astray. In Matthew 5:13, Jesus teaches that Christians are the light of the world. Thus, when they obey Jesus, other people see the good deeds that they do (New International Version). In the workplace, when an employee is involved in inappropriate activities, others must be firm enough to tell him that what he does is unethical and might cost him his job. However, if the employee does not listen and still continues with his activities, this is already beyond what others can do. It will depend on the superiors on what measures to take to be able to prevent the employee from further doing his activities and to keep the company away from legal liabilities.
Categories of Inappropriate Use
There are some basic categories surrounding the inappropriate use of the Internet. These include cybersex, online friendship/relationship, online information searches, and criminal and miscellaneous abuse. Each of these categories will be discussed in the following sections.
Cybersex. Internet has provided users easy access to all imaginable sites. Along with this privilege, users can gain access “to explore, enjoy and exploit each other through some expression of sex.” Many users got addicted to this, mainly due to the anonymity that the Internet provides. However, this activity of exploring these sites proved to be addicting to many users and it resulted to what is called cybersex addiction. Further, it has broken the lives of those who became addicted and of those around them (Corley, n.d.).
One of the reasons why users become addicted to cybersex is because of the easy access to pornographic materials. According to a survey conducted in 2001, more than 55% of American homes have access to Internet. Additionally, the survey showed that more than 158 million people use the World Wide Web. Thus, it is not surprising that pornographic sites have increased to lure the users to view them. Further studies showed that pornography is a very profitable business (Corley, n.d.).
Consequently, many people find it easy to involve in cybersex activities, including engaging in sexually-oriented chat rooms. Cybersex also includes sending sexually-suggestive e-mails at work or at home. In some cases, people use video camera for a real footage. Perhaps the most interesting fact with cybersex is that the majority of electronic porn traffic happens during weekdays between nine in the morning until five in the afternoon. The implications that this has on the company might put it in a compromising situation (Corley, n.d.).
Online friendship/relationship. While nothing is wrong with having friends online, the line must be drawn when these activities are conducted within the working hours in the workplace. This is already considered an abuse because this activity is non-work related and might hinder the productivity of the employees. This activity involves exchanging e-mails with friends or engaging in discussion groups. It also includes maintaining emotional relationships. Furthermore, this becomes an abuse when users switch gender or explore identity roles and engage in online relationships (Griffiths, 2003).
Online information searches. There are also cases wherein employees abuse the use of Internet search engines and databases. What usually happens is that employees use these search engines to look for information related to work but do not find sufficient and useful information. As a result, time is wasted. Sometimes this becomes the habit of employees so as to avoid work, but there are also cases wherein this is accidental. Furthermore, this abuse may include searching for information that is not, in any way, related to work (Griffiths, 2003).
Criminal and miscellaneous abuse. In extreme cases, there are persons who seek out individuals who fall prey to sexually related crimes such as online sexual harassment or cyber stalking (Griffiths, 2003). There was even one case wherein an employee was caught with 400 images of child pornography stored on his computer at work (Awareness Technologies, 2006). These criminal acts present severe implications not only to the employees but to their employers as well (Griffiths, 2003).
Other miscellaneous abuse includes the use of Internet to gamble, to shop, to book a flight, to engage in online games, and to trade stocks online. According to studies, these abuses are among the common forms of Internet abuse. Further, Internet abuse includes the digital manipulation of images for entertainment or masturbatory purposes (Griffiths, 2003).
Why People Abuse the Internet
These forms of abuse are rampant in any place as long as there is Internet connection. Some people find themselves addicted to these activities. As scientists were baffled as to why the Internet is addicting, the consensus was that social interactions online are what attracts many people into spending more time in the Internet (AddictionsWeb.com, 2009).
However, socialization is not the only reason why people abuse the Internet. There are a host of factors which lure people into surfing the Internet while at work. Many research studies conducted showed that people can take advantage of a short-term comfort or distraction in the virtual environments. Other reasons include affordability, opportunity, access, convenience, anonymity, social acceptability, disinhibition, and escape. These factors will be discussed in the following sections (Griffiths, 2003).
Because of the accessibility of the Internet, the use of online services is cheaper. And in most companies, employees can use the Internet free of charge. Employees have also the opportunity and access to the Internet, which became an indispensable tool in the workplace environment. Convenience also is seen as a factor why employees use the Internet for personal reasons. Through the Internet, various services such as chat rooms, role-playing games, and e-mail provide employees with more convenient ways to meet other people without actually having to leave one’s desk (Griffiths, 2003).
Anonymity also lures employees into engaging in various activities online. This is because with anonymity, anyone can privately unleash their behavior. Also, employees believe that they can get away with their activities without their employers catching them. Furthermore, anonymity can provide employees with perceived control over their online experiences. And in most cases, the anonymity that the Internet provides allows users to be more honest and open in their communications with other people. This can lead to online relationships that usually begin at the workplace. Another fact with regards to anonymity is that the users are more comfortable because the chances to detect facial expressions are limited (Griffiths, 2003).
On the other hand, social acceptability of the Internet has undergone changes over the course of years. Now people have accepted the role of the Internet in their daily lives. In fact, even children are exposed to this medium. There is no wonder why teenagers today are into the services that the Internet offers for their socialization. For instance, teenagers today spend more time in their social networking sites compared to hanging out face to face with their friends. According to studies, these people are not societal misfits. They just use the Internet as another tool to communicate and socialize with others (Griffiths, 2003).
Also, the Internet provides disinhibition. This is one of the main appeals of the medium. The truth is that when a person is online, he is less inhibited. In fact, people today are quick to open up about themselves than in the offline world. Another fact is this: an offline relationship may take months or years to build, but an online relationship is faster to develop. Many online users are encouraged to make use of their relationships as a source of comfort. There is just so much trust, acceptance, and intimacy going on in the online world (Griffiths, 2003).
Furthermore, people find a way of an escape when they surf the Internet. Internet abuse can be reinforced when users find sexual gratification from their activities online. In some cases, the reinforcing factor can be a “subjectively or objectively, or both, experienced ‘high,’” as is the case in online gambling and cybersex. When users find a mood-modifying experience online, it can lead to addiction. This is because this mood-modifying experience serves as an escape which further reinforces one’s behavior. This will further lead to problems even though the users’ online behaviors provide them an outlet from stresses (Griffiths, 2003).
Lastly, surfing the Internet during workdays can lead to longer working hours. This is the case over the world now. Not surprisingly, the Internet at work is the place where many of the employees’ life activities are carried out. For instance, single persons use the Internet at work to look for a relationship. From their desks, they can go to dating web sites. This is also an effective option for the workaholic. Communications through the Internet prohibits prejudices based on physical appearances. Furthermore, online communications can relieve some people of social isolation. As a result, the Internet provided them a means to develop new relationships (Griffiths, 2003).
However, the Christian worldview has a different take on this. Not only were the previous factors the reason why people are addicted to the Internet. The Christian view is that man’s sinfulness is what attracts him to do so. As described in Romans, chapters 1-3, man’s sinful nature has a lot to do with why he abuses the Internet for selfish and personal gains. The apostle Paul believes that man is full of sinful desires and has become wicked, evil, greedy, and deprived. Not only this, but man became envious, murderous, deceitful, and malicious. In some parts of chapter 1, particularly in verse 30, Paul describes that man’s sinful nature has encouraged him to “invent ways of doing evil” (New International Version).
The Internet is particularly the best way for sinners to “invent ways of doing evil.” This is because some people can take advantage of anonymity that the Internet provides and they think that they can get away with their criminal and inappropriate activities. For instance, the porn industry is such a very profitable business. In fact, it comes second to computer software and equipment sale in the Internet (Corley, n.d.). It has become extremely popular to a large number of people because they are easily accessible and affordable. And being weak creatures that men are, they found themselves addicted to these sites.
Additionally, man is stubborn, self-seeking, follows evil, and does not want to change for good. Man’s sin and his inability to obey God paralyze him. As long as man is controlled by his sinful nature, he cannot be free from the addiction he finds from the use of Internet (Romans 8, New International Version).
The Need for Companies to Monitor Internet Use in the Workplace
Companies using the Internet for their operations lose $85 billion a year when their employees abuse the Internet that subsequently results to loss of productivity (Awareness Technologies, 2006). In some cases, companies are subpoenaed because of one employee e-mail. Studies have also shown that the use of the Internet and e-mail have provided employees an escape from their tiring days at the office. Sometimes the urge is too strong for a sports enthusiast to take a peek at sports-oriented websites to get updates on their favorite sports. Furthermore, employees are tempted to take a quick break from their work to send a note to their friends about some things. These are factors enough to prompt companies to exercise measures to prevent extreme cases from happening (Muhl, 2003).
According to a survey, both employers and employees believe that non-work related Internet and e-mail use is appropriate. They also recognize that it can hinder the productivity of the employees. The survey found out that employees firmly believe that their use of the Internet and e-mail is appropriate and that their employers should not monitor what sites they visit and what e-mails they send and receive. The majority of the respondents insist that surfing non-work related sites is acceptable as long as it is done for only a portion during the workday (Muhl, 2003).
Interestingly, visiting non-work related sites during the workday is the leading form of slacking off. A past study reported that an American employee spends 2.09 hours each day frittering away. And this figure does not include the time for lunch. While many companies recognize the importance of the Internet and its many applications to their productivity, efficiency, and profitability, they can still be compromised due to the legal exposure brought about by the employees’ conduct on the use of the Internet and the e-mail service (Francois, n.d.).
These instances are hard to deal with and can cost companies a lot. Thus, companies attempt to reduce “legal exposure and to be vigilant and proactive.” They can successfully carry this out through the implementation, monitoring and enforcement of a clear policy on the use of the Internet and e-mail (Francois, n.d.). However, despite the firm stand of companies regarding this matter, employees still think that the restriction and monitoring of their use of the Internet and e-mail by the company is inappropriate, largely due to privacy issues. As a result, companies need to be clear on their reasons as to the need for the monitoring of Internet and e-mail use.
To monitor employee productivity. One of the reasons why companies need to monitor their employees’ Internet and e-mail use is to monitor employee productivity. Productivity matters to every company as this can greatly improve the company’s operations. As aforementioned, surfing the Internet and using the e-mail service for non-work related activities can hinder one’s productivity. In fact, a survey on the use of Internet and e-mail among employees showed that 57% of the respondents admit that using the Internet and e-mail for personal purposes decreases their productivity (Muhl, 2003).
In addition, productivity is lost through Internet abuse. Fair, Zimmerman, Eberhardt, and Hobbs reported that statistics published in the past regarding Internet abuse just shows how serious the problem is. For instance, Nielsen studies showed that in a week, an employee spends more than 18 hours surfing web sites during workday. There were also studies wherein employees admitted themselves having used the Internet for personal reasons for more than three hours each day. Aside from this, many of these employees admitted that at some point, the use of the Internet was addictive (Fair et.al, 2005).
This addiction, or the mere visiting of web sites during workday, can cost the company a lot and lose productivity. When the loss of productivity is converted to cost, a certain company loses as much as millions annually. For instance, a company with 1,000 employees, each of which earns $20 per hour and spends 1.5 hour per day surfing the Internet for non-work related activities, it losses a total of $7.8 million every year (Fair et.al, 2005).
On the other end of the spectrum, many employers recognize that when used properly, Internet and e-mail use can actually increase the productivity of their employees. This is the main finding of an Australian study, which also showed that those who use the Internet for personal purposes are “nine percent more productive” compared to those who do not. The study assumes that this is brought about by the increased levels of concentration or decreased levels of anxiety when employees surf the Internet for personal reasons (Duncan, 2009).
While this may be true in some instances, the fact remains that surfing the Internet for personal reasons should not exceed more than 20 percent of an employee’s time. Short breaks in the form of quickly visiting web sites can lend the mind a bit of rest. This can recharge the mind, resulting to a higher concentration while working. But when it exceeds 20 percent, the employees lose productivity. Furthermore, the study noted that 14 percent of Internet users exhibit signs of Internet addiction (Duncan, 2009).
To prevent misuse of company resources. When provided with a computer and an Internet connection, it is at the fingertips of the employees the freedom to surf sites or to chat with friends while taking a break. This misuse can worsen until company resources are being misused as well. With the hours that employees spend frittering away, the company losses millions of dollars each year.
Additionally, when employees use the Internet and e-mail inappropriately, it is possible that they may face legal liabilities. The worse thing is that the brunt is on the company, whose name and reputation are put on the line. For instance, an employee uses the Internet to visit pornographic sites during the workday. By downloading images, viruses, worms, and Trojans can be downloaded as well without one’s knowledge. These can infect the computer, and might even spread to other computers in the company. While the cost of cleaning up viruses and worms may not be very expensive, time is lost on inappropriate things and productivity decreases.
To prevent fraudulent activities. In extreme cases, certain employees go as far as engaging in fraudulent activities online. E-mail, chat rooms, forums, or web sites can be used to carry this out. Furthermore, the Internet is used to transact the proceeds and to transfer it to those who are involved in the scheme. The legal liability that a company faces is also heavy, thus the need to monitor the Internet usage of its employees is necessary (Australian Federal Police, 2009).
Fraudulent activities include, but are not limited to, scams, identity theft, Internet banking fraud, spam, phishing, and spyware. Scams are in the form of “uninvited email.” Some of the most common example of scams is the Lotto Scams and Nigerian Scams. Identity theft occurs when the culprit is able to take hold and use of someone’s personal information such as name, credit card number or social security number. The culprit can then transact business or other activities using the stolen information. Internet banking fraud, on the other hand, uses technology to steal money from a certain bank account and transfer it to the person’s own bank account. This can also be done through phishing (Australian Federal Police, 2009).
Spam, like scams, are unwanted mail, hence the other name for it, “junk” mail. These are usually sent to a person’s e-mail account. The subjects of these messages vary, but are usually commercial. The annoying thing about spam is its volume. Additionally, the messages usually encourage the receiver to purchase a product or service. In some cases, one may be persuaded to provide a website with personal information such as bank account (Australian Federal Police, 2009).
Phishing, meanwhile, is a technique of identity theft. This is also a form of spam to be able to obtain online banking details. Not only are online banking customers victimized by phishing, but online auction sites and payment facilities as well. Usually, an e-will will instruct a customer to go to a provided link to update bank account details. If the customer does so, the online bank login details are sent to a third party. Lastly, spyware is another form of Internet fraud. It is a software that is installed unknowingly in a computer and steals information from it without the knowledge of the user. Information that can be stolen can be personal or business, or bandwidth. This information is then sent to another person (Australian Federal Police, 2009).
To guard against legal liability resulting from employee communications. When the company does not exercise control over the use of the Internet and the e-mail services, it might face legal risks and liabilities as a result of the misuse of the technology (Fair et. al, 2005). A company can be legally liable in two major ways. First, the employees download illegal materials such as pornographic materials. Second, sexual harassment may take place or a “hostile workplace environment” may be the reason for legal liability on the company’s part. These factors might result if employees are repeatedly exposed to offensive materials inside the office. A survey found out that more than half of all the respondents admit that they received sexually explicit and other inappropriate messages. A portion of the respondents claim that they have received such emails on a regular basis. These incidents can be very expensive to settle, and the reputation of the company is tainted (Wilde, 2002).
Furthermore, the company can face legal liability when its employees conduct online activities inappropriately. When they download music and videos, the company might be at risk of violating copyright laws that protect artists from illegal downloads. Furthermore, employees might violate the Child Online Protection Act when they download, share, or print pornographic pictures of children. The worse thing is that even though some people were arrested for this, some employees continue to view pornography online (Taillon, 2009).
Types of Technology to Monitor Internet Use and their Uses
As more and more companies are faced with challenges stemming from the inappropriate use and misuse of the Internet and its services, solutions were offered. What can solve a problem of technology but by technology as well? The manual monitoring of each employee is a tiring activity, and this might make employees uncomfortable in their jobs. This is where certain firewall products come in. Companies have developed these technologies to aid other companies to monitor the Internet usage of their employees.
Today, there is now the Internet manager web inspector offered by Elron Software. This web inspector is said to be “the most accurate, flexible and scalable Internet Policy Management (IPM)…for web surfing.” This serves its purpose by monitoring, managing and blocking access to inappropriate websites whenever necessary. Thus, it helps to boost the productivity of the employees. Furthermore, the IM Web Inspector disallows recreational surfing and eliminates online distractions. The employee can no longer surf sites for sports, online shopping, and job searches. Additionally, it clears traffic because the amount of non-work related files or games downloaded is reduced. The company can also greatly benefit, as its legal liability is safeguarded from expensive and damaging lawsuits as a result of inappropriate surfing. Some of the companies using this technology are WAL-MART, 20th Century Fox, and Air Canada (“Internet Manager Web Inspector,” n.d.).
There is also the McAfee SmartFilter. Like the IM Web Inspector, McAfee SmartFilter does not allow employees to surf sites that can expose the company to various risks while at the same time it reduces the legal liability. Furthermore, as employees do not have access to these sites, their productivity is maximized. The bandwidth is also reserved for work-related activities (McAfee, n.d.).
McAfee SmartFilter can filter on category. The McAfee TrustedSource Web Database contains a repository with over 25 million websites that can be blocked. It can also detect malware, spyware, or malicious threats. Additionally, it can “document inappropriate web activity” and thus aid the company in enforcing its policies on the use of the Internet. This SmartFilter also allows the company to exempt sites that a specific group can access. Also, with SmartFilter at work, the company can take the necessary measures to provide control over the outbound Web access of its employees (McAfee, n.d.).
Another technology to aid companies is SonicWALL. SonicWALL Email Security (SES) Appliances, Software and Services provide with anti-spam and email security options to companies with at most 100,000 employees. Through this technology, the company is guaranteed with safe e-mail, productivity, and cost-effectiveness (SonicWALL Inc., 2009).
There are many other advantages to using SonicWALL. First, it prevents e-mail spam and phishing. It also filters e-mail messages that have virus. Second, it is manageable. It fits the needs of the company. Third, SonicWALL prevents e-mail spam from entering the network. Thus, junk traffic is reduced and the performance is improved. The uniqueness of this technology further aids the company to block spam and viruses before it can enter and do damage in the network (SonicWALL Inc., 2009).
Furthermore, this technology assures the server’s reputation. Whenever a zombie system sends out phishing, spam, or e-mails with viruses, the company can see that its email server is blacklisted and its ISP connection is shut down. Also, its IT resources act to repair the problem and the company’s reputation. In short, the SonicWALL protects the company’s network against inbound Trojans and viruses and outbound zombies. In fact, SES can monitor the outbound traffic just to be sure that the company’s connection does not send spam (SonicWALL Inc., 2009).
Lastly, the company can gain from this technology as it prevents data leakage. What the SES does is that it “identifies and routes e-mail containing sensitive information” while at the same time ensuring inbound compliance and outbound leakage protection (SonicWALL Inc., 2009).
Finally, there is the SuperScout Web Filter a software solution from SurfControl. Like the other technologies mentioned, it maximizes the productivity of employees and reduces the risks of legal liability. Additionally, it enables bandwidth to be used appropriately. Its features, including the ease of use, performance, and implementation in network platforms, earned it a five-star award. Companies can greatly benefit from its uses, including the regulation of video, audio, or image streaming.” This technology looks like a surveillance camera which report, collect, and control traffic on various TCP/IP protocols (“Leading Internet Content,” 2001).
The good thing about this technology is that it does not disrupt the flow of traffic. Hence, the network does not slow down. The SuperScout Web Filter lives to its reputation as a “premier tool for managing Internet productivity in the workplace (“Leading Internet Content,” 2001).
Consequences of Monitoring Internet Usage of Employees
Employees believe that their employers should not monitor their use of Internet and e-mail in the workplace. Some of the reasons given are: 1) it is an intrusion on privacy, and 2) it _________. However, the law does not sympathize with them. This is because employees were often mistaken in their belief that the use of these facilities must be private. The fact is that courts found “no reasonable expectation of privacy” upon the use of the Internet and e-mail. Courts have always allowed employers to exercise control and to monitor their employees’ activities (Muhl, 2003).
Thus there is a line drawn between the employers and their employees. The problem arises when the latter fails to make clear its policies regarding the appropriate use of the Internet and the e-mail service. If the company deems it extremely necessary to monitor the use of these facilities by its employees, there must be some form of notification, such as in writing, which communicates the policy to the users. Policies must be crafted carefully, as cases of ambiguities may arise (Klein, Pappas, & Gallacher, 2000). Additionally, before crafting these policies, the employers must first determine for what uses the Internet and e-mail can be used, such as for personal, business, or limited personal use. After then, the company must make it clear that violation of the policies subjects the employee to disciplinary action (Francois, n.d.).
Employee moral. The extent of the monitoring of Internet and e-mail usage damages employee morale than it benefits productivity. Monitoring, without clearly communicating it to the employees, also undermine their morale (Klein, Pappas, & Gallacher, 2000). Thus, it is important for employers to first consider the effect that their monitoring can have on the employees. The fact is that when employees are prohibited with their personal use of these facilities, it could decrease their morale. Thus, their efficiency is also decreased. This can be prevented when employers evaluate their decision carefully in line with the existing culture of the organization (Francois, n.d.).
Ethical issues. Ethical issues are also at the forefront when it comes to the consequences of monitoring. Misuse of company resources and abuse of Internet and e-mail raise ethical issues. This abuse and misuse can be considered as “a theft of valuable company resources” (Fair et.al, 2005).
Sending e-mails at work becomes a problem when the messages contained in these e-mails are unethical. This is a reality in the workplace. According to a study regarding the instances of receiving unethical e-mails at work, 35% of the respondents received unethical e-mails despite the existence of policies that prohibit sending offensive e-mail. Additionally, five percent receive these e-mails more than once a day (LRN, 2007).
While technological advances benefit a lot of people and provide them with new activities, it is important that they must consider the ethical implications of such use. With the Internet and its various uses in the workplace, it is only imperative that its users must be aware and must have respect for the values in the organization. The right thing to do is to preserve traditional values and at the same time being open to explore and accept new values (Fair et.al, 2005).
Thus, it is equally important to resolve Internet misuse by employees by making them aware and committed. The company must be also committed to promote employee behavior in the workplace. At the same time, organization values must be inculcated among employees. One of the values must be productivity. This is one thing that employees must understand and must achieve at all time not only for their own welfare but for the company’s as well (Fair et.al, 2005).
Furthermore, it is important that both employers and employees and committed to ethical conduct in the workplace. This can be exercised through addressing Internet abuse. Employers must not secretly monitor the activities of their employees. Instead, the latter must be involved through an open engagement between two parties (Fair et.al, 2005).
Legal issues. Internet use also poses legal exposure to the company, especially by employee misconduct. The company will always be legally vulnerable when employees continually use online services for personal use such as the transmission of sexually explicit materials, publication of defamatory materials, and violating copyright laws (Francois, n.d.).
Moreover, the company can face legal liability as a result of Internet crimes done by the employees. The most common form of Internet crime is sexually related. This type of crime is further categorized into two: 1) the display, download, and distribution of illegal sexually related files, and 2) intimidation of a person, as in online sexual harassment and cyber stalking. These can happen at the workplace, and this must be something that companies must pay attention to (Griffiths, 2003).
Just to give a snapshot to the severity of this problem, there are cases in the past when certain companies faced legal liability stemming from the misconduct of their employees. The fact is that more than half of all companies have resorted to disciplining their employees and even terminating some as a result of Internet abuse. Employees themselves admit that they engage in non-work related activities such as sending adult-oriented e-mails during workday. Furthermore, the Dow Chemical Co. terminated 50 employees and disciplined around 200 more after being linked to sending e-mails containing hard-core pornography and violence. Some companies face claims as was the case in Fortune 500 companies, wherein the misuse of the Internet and e-mail service resulted to sexual harassment charges (N2H2 Inc., n.d.).
Sadly, some instances are not given the proper action. One of these is online harassment. This is a common event in the workplace. Sexual harassment usually comes in the form of e-mail messages between employees, although these messages are not enough in some courts (Muhl, 2003). Furthermore, employees can be victimized through cyber stalking. Most of the victims of this crime are women. The first case of cyber stalking that is prosecuted involves a security guard who has suspicious online activities. A woman rebuffed him for this, which results to the security guard’s obsession with the woman. What he did was place advertisements online which claimed that the woman was “into rape fantasy and gangbang fantasy.” As a result, the victim received obscene telephone calls and even had visitors with very sexual suggestions (Griffiths, 2003).
Since the Internet is global, cyber stalking is, as well. Other cases of cyber stalking were reported (Griffiths, 2003).
Another form of Internet related crime is online gambling. At times, the urge to engage in online gambling is just for fun. But this can be addicting, until the employee finds himself engaging in this activity over and over. This is further worsened by the existence of web sites which encourage users to engage in online gambling through the use of credit cards. At times, this activity might not be detected, as employees are given full access to the Internet. As a result, some employees can get away with gambling without the company or their co-workers knowing it (Griffiths, 2003).
Another problem with online gambling is its being a hidden activity. Employees find it easier to engage on this even when at the workplace. Not only do they waste time, but it also negatively affects their productivity. When this becomes a problem, the company is faced with legal liability that can ruin its reputation (Griffiths, 2003).
The problem regarding copyrights and trademarks are also legal issues. Employers, and not employees, will be liable once the latter violated the copyrights and trademarks of another party within the normal business of the employee. When it comes to the use of the Internet, violation comes in the form of downloading files that have copyrights or trademarks and using these files for the benefit of the business (Muhl, 2003).
Thus, employers face risks when they fail to monitor the use of Internet by their employees. In the past, many cases were reported wherein plaintiffs brought evidence partly based on e-mail. Although some of these cases were successes for the plaintiffs, many employers have spent large amounts of money to defend their stance on these cases. These cases must be lessons enough for employers to implement clear policies on the proper use of the Internet and e-mail (Muhl, 2003).
Another cause of concern for employers is privacy issue in the workplace. The main argument of employees when it comes to monitoring their use of the Internet and e-mail is right to privacy. On the other hand, employers reason out that they provide their employees these facilities, and might face legal liability as a result of misconduct. O’Conner v. Ortega is a landmark case in which the Supreme Court ruled that employees have legally protected privacy interests. However, these interests must be balanced “against the realities of the workplace.” On the other hand, the Supreme Court acknowledged that there are still places wherein the employees have the right to privacy, even in the workplace. These places or areas include file cabinets and desks (Bassett et.al, 2002).
With Internet and e-mail available to employees, the temptation to surf the Internet for personal uses is just at the tip of their fingertips. This temptation will be hard to resist, especially when a break from work is needed to refresh the mind. Furthermore, the wide array of activities that one can engage in online can lure them into visiting web sites more often than necessary. This is further worsened by the fact that what is restricted appeals more to people.
People are weak and are usually easily taken by temptations when they do not obey God. When people are far from God, they are near these things which make them weaker spiritually. As Paul said in Romans, man will do evil deeds. But those who constantly seek God will be away from committing sins. Employees who are provided with Internet and e-mail services at work must always remember what God would want them to do. Instead of using their work hours for things that will not benefit them as an individual and as an employee, they must ask themselves what they can gain from their activities. Their employers expect them to do their job and to be productive with it. Employers also expect their employees to be ethical in making decisions. Employees, in turn, must live up to the expectations of those who pay their wages. They must do their job while at the office because this is what they are paid for.
However, it will always do the company good when there are clear policies with regards to the use of company resources. Sometimes policies or unclear policies are what a company lacks, and this leads to problems when employees find themselves using the Internet and e-mail for non-work related purposes. Company owe it to their employees to also carry out their policies and be firm in carrying out punishments upon the violation of the policies.
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