Clear policy vital for disciplinary action

Unauthorised use of the Internet can no longer be ignored, as the sackings
at Merrill Lynch and Orange have shown. But taking action is not easy, given
concerns over monitoring and unfair dismissal. So how do employers tackle the

Christine Freestone
Director of human resources and legal services, Newham College of
Further Education

Internet misuse is something we take very seriously at Newham College. We
accept that staff will occasionally surf the Net at work for fun – in my view
it is no different from taking a minute or two to glance at the paper or make a
quick personal phone call. However, accessing offensive or pornographic
material is a very different matter.

The college has no wish to pry into employees’ private affairs or interests
outside work. We respect employees’ privacy as far as possible, but at the same
time we have a duty to all our staff to foster a working environment which is
non-threatening and non-discriminatory. We have a diverse workforce and we want
everyone to feel comfortable at work. This means that we simply can’t condone
this sort of material being accessed and downloaded anywhere in the college.
Allowing a small minority to access offensive or pornographic material would
jeopardise the workplace environment for everyone else.

My view is that the key to managing Internet use is having a good Internet
policy, which is rolled out to all staff with Internet access. We are currently
implementing such a policy at the college. If the policy clearly sets out what
sort of use is unacceptable, most employees will comply with these rules and
the incidence of Internet misuse will be reduced to a minimum. An additional
benefit from an employer’s perspective is that a good policy forms a basis for
any disciplinary action which may be necessary. I’m glad to say that occasions
where employees at the college have accessed this sort of material on the
Internet have been very rare, but our policy would be always to take
appropriate action. If disciplinary action was justified in the circumstances
and necessary to protect other staff and the college’s working environment, then
this is what we would do. I can certainly envisage situations when dismissal
would be appropriate, but we would consider each case on its merits.

Bruce Warman
Director of personnel, Vauxhall Motors

All our 1700 staff and subcontractors have Internet access. We have had no
major problems, but we are aware of the need to remind people of what is
considered appropriate use. As a result we launched a revised policy and plan
to refresh the guidelines every three months as things develop. It is important
that offensive material is not distributed: apart from distressing recipients
we do not wish our company name to be associated with it. In extreme cases of
misuse there could be an argument for dismissal. However, it is important not
to impose too rigid a system which prevents people exploring the power of the
Internet and becoming familiar with its potential as a tool.

Janet Cumner
Deputy head of human resources, National Police Training

We are very fortunate to have detailed policy guidance from our parent
department, the Home Office.

There is a general prohibition on visiting, viewing or downloading any
material from a web site containing sexual or illegal material which is
offensive in any way. If an employee fails to comply, this might mean that the
organisation takes disciplinary action or dismisses them, depending on the
gravity of the offence and the intent behind it.

Employee awareness of the sanctions is a very important means of prevention.
But it is acknowledged that accidental access may occur. On such occasions
staff are required to leave the web site immediately and inform management.

Roger Minton
Head of human resources, Blackwell Science

While our company policy allows "limited personal use" of e-mail
and the Internet our policy makes it clear that downloading information which
could cause offence is unacceptable. The Human Rights Act strengthens the case
for outlawing the accessing of obscene or offensive material. How could a
company take anything other than a serious line with people who are accessing
such information in an environment where it could easily fall into the wrong
hands? Once one has stated the seriousness of this behaviour, it could easily
constitute gross misconduct. Therefore the policy would have to be communicated
effectively, and signed by all employees.

Sue Simons
Director of personnel, Avis Europe

We have had a policy governing the correct use of our systems for many

However, such policies have to be updated to keep abreast of the changing
situation – a process which is currently underway within the company.

We would come down very hard on any employee, for example, whose activities
infringed the law; brought the company’s reputation into disrepute; involved
defamatory or offensive material; involved personal business use; or
compromised the security or operation of the company’s electronic
communications systems.

Comments are closed.