Employers in confusion over control of staff Internet use

Employers are in disarray over how to control inappropriate use of the
Internet by employees.

Many of the organisations approached for this month’s "Barometer",
including some large companies, had no policy for what they saw as a
"grey" area. Others said it was a problem they had yet to face.

But companies that do not have a policy actively to discourage such
activities could be deemed to condone the actions of their staff, leaving them
open to claims of sexual harassment by distributing offensive material, as well
as possible criminal prosecutions under the Obscene Publications Act, for
example. It could also leave employers vulnerable to claims of unfair dismissal
if they take disciplinary action to deal with the problem.

A report from the CIPD claims Internet misuse could cost a typical large
company £2.5m a year, and that half of workers have visited adult web sites in
work time.

Some employers said they were confused by conflicting messages from the
Government over monitoring. A draft code of practice from the Data Protection
Commissioner says businesses that routinely monitor employee Internet and
e-mail use could fall foul of the Data Protection Act.

Yet the Lawful Business Practice regulations, put out only a week earlier by
the DTI, seem to give businesses the right to monitor such activity as long as
they follow certain procedures.

"This [data protection] code is confusing and at odds with the
regulations," said Rod Armitage, CBI head of legal affairs. "It
suggests it is difficult to see how routine monitoring can be justified. We had
hoped for some joined up thinking between the DTI and the DPC."

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