Four out of 10 employers are still receiving complaints about staff wasting
time on the web despite the majority having polices in place to prevent misuse.
Quentin Reade reports
Exclusive research by Personnel Today and Internet filtering company Websense
reveals that although 86 per cent of organisations have internet use policies,
40 per cent of HR professionals have received complaints about employees
wasting time on the net.
The Internet Misuse survey shows that 51 per cent of employers have had
complaints relating to pornography sites and 9 per cent to race or other
discriminatory website addresses.
Nearly a quarter of organisations have had complaints about staff accessing
chat rooms and 17 per cent have had complaints relating to games on the web.
Roger Wood, HR director at Portakabin, said that if internet policies are
strictly enforced they can discourage inappropriate use. His firm has tackled
the problem by implementing a strict policy discouraging personal internet use
"We have a lengthy policy and it provides constraints. Most people have
internet access at home, so shouldn’t use work time to further personal
interests," he said.
Diane Sinclair, lead adviser on public policy at the CIPD, agrees that
companies have to do more than just write a policy.
"It’s surprising that such a high number of organisations have had to
take action," she said, "but it shows the need for adequate policies
to be regularly communicated to employees."
The 544 HR managers and officers surveyed believe that most employees spend
an average of up to two hours a week on personal internet use at work.
Geoff Haggart, vice-president Europe of Websense, said the amount of time
wasted on the web is far greater than most employers realise.
He said: "Most workplaces don’t realise how much personal surfing goes
on." However, he added that companies should opt for prevention rather
than cure and use software that blocks certain sites and limits personal time
The HR manager at Cine-UK, Kim Stringer, said that abuse was an issue when
the internet was first introduced, but the firm has addressed this through
"Our internet and e-mail policy has stopped a lot of abuse," she
said. "We also have restricted use and not all PCs have access to the
internet so that limits potential problems."
The CBI puts the onus firmly on the employers. Senior policy adviser
Susannah Haan said employers should be prepared to monitor staff over internet
use and make it clear how long they can spend on personal web use.
"There is a need to monitor to find out what is going on. It’s a
management issue," she said. "You have to watch out for morale of
other staff because it is demoralising if someone is not doing the work.
"Employers must also use common sense and be flexible when disciplining
people on breaches of policy," she added.
The survey shows 23 per cent of employers have dismissed staff for internet
misuse. But TUC employment rights officer Hannah Reed said disciplinary action
should not be necessary. "The key is that employers must make sure their
staff know and understand the rules banning pornographic material at work. The
focus should be on preventing abuse not seeking to catch people out."
Legal risks employers face over internet misuse
– Employers could be open to claims
of discrimination and unfair and constructive dismissal if they fail to manage
– If a company sacks an employee for downloading objectionable
or offensive material, but does not have an internet policy, the employee could
claim unfair dismissal
– If a company fails to do anything to stop employees
downloading and distributing pornography or other offensive material,
co-workers who object and then resign may have a claim for constructive
dismissal and/or discrimination.
Source: Lisa Harris, employment law solicitor at Morgan Cole
CIPD guide to what internet
policies should include
Internet policies should state that:
– Certain websites are banned
– Downloading offensive material is banned
– Internet access may be monitored
– There are clear penalties for misuse of the internet
– Internet access is for business use only or for private use
The CIPD says the policies should be
included in the staff handbook and explained during the induction programme.