Monday, February 22, 2010


Given that Internet use policies play such a critical role in the legal regulation of employee Web use in the workplace, it is important to highlight the issues that inform the drafting of such a document, the content that should be included in a policy to effectively limit employer exposure to various kinds of liability, and suggest measures that should be followed when enforcing an Internet use policy.
The starting point in developing and implementing an Internet use policy should be a consideration of the objectives of the policy. An organization should clearly identify what it is attempting to accomplish via the policy. Once the business purpose of such a policy is defined, the content of the policy should be informed by these purposes, and any policy implementation should be tailored to meet them, i.e., a company should avoid excessive or gratuitous monitoring. A company should consider whether different levels of monitoring will be implemented for different categories of staff.
The second step in policy drafting is to identify which categories of personnel to monitor, and which categories of staff will perform the monitoring function. An organization should consider whether monitoring will be carried out by middle managers or network administrators, and whether the actions of these monitors will be subject to review from higher management. As middle managers are often responsible for promotion and discipline of staff, it is prudent to “monitor the monitor” to avoid allegations of discrimination and disparate or selective treatment. In addition, it may be that middle managers are, in turn, subject to monitoring, if they have access to sensitive corporate data.
An organization should also consider its capacity to implement any policy that is enunciated. It is extremely important to ensure that implementation and enforcement of an Internet use policy is uniformly and consistently applied across the whole organization according to the terms of the policy. Failure to enforce sanctions consistently can lead to claims of discrimination and unfair treatment.
Finally, a company should seek legal advice as to whether it is necessary to consult with unions regarding proposed monitoring activities. It may be that collective bargaining agreements or union contracts limit the ability of an employer to monitor workplace Internet activity.
When drafting an Internet use policy, consider the culture of the workplace.
Although strict Internet use policies may seem initially attractive vis-àvis their ability to reduce the risk of employers being held responsible for employee wrongdoing, it is important to consider whether a strict policy will have a detrimental effect on workplace morale, productivity, and cohesion.

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