Web-Surfing at Work




Personal Internet Use at Work

In today’s workforce within offices connected to the Internet, it is not uncommon for everyone to go off on a tangent and surf the web while on the clock.  Usage aside from work related material range from sending personal email, online shopping, online gaming, chatting, and the list goes on.  The Internet today is a giant public library with the most widespread use of the internet as an information search utility for products, travel, hobbies, and general information.  So what is workplace monitoring?

A recent survey by Web@Work revealed that 93% of employees used the Internet for personal usage while on the clock.  This was not a surprise being that in the previous year, it was only 86%.  Usage should be based on the employers’ policy if one is in place.  But even if they did not have one, they would probably frown upon this issue.  They could easily say that there’s not enough work to justify your pay if you have all this time to surf the web. 


Conflicting Issues – Policy Arguments

Many issues arise as the professional and non-professional workforces grow.  There are two sides to the issue of web-surfing at work.  The Pro-employee side supports the employee's right to privacy and the idea of web surfing as "the millennial cigarette break." The Pro-employer angle supports the function of a company to produce products and services efficiently, while protecting the companies’ assets against misuse and potential lawsuits.  A major factor is potential legal liability faced by employers when workers are exposed to offensive or graphic material on colleagues' computer screens, which could create a hostile work environment.  There are certainly some sites that are off limits as seen in a web usage survey.  In addition, companies are concerned about productivity drains caused by non-business uses of time and equipment, and also about proprietary information being leaked to competitors.  An estimated $200 billion per year is what it’s costing businesses for employees surfing the web while on the clock or roughly losing three weeks out of a year.  But not all employers want to eliminate all of the Internet usage entirely. Some employers will allow their workers sufficient time to conduct personal business online just as sufficient time allowed by employers to let employees use telephones to make a reasonable amount of personal calls.  To break down these issues, consider the Pro-employee and Pro-employer arguments. 


This argument usually supports the privacy of employees while encouraging employees to monitor their own use of the Internet via acceptable-use policies. Some employers support employee’s limited use of the Internet, entrusting responsibility for productivity into the hands of the employee.  Here’s what a user-employee had to say.  Psychologically, any stress reliever will make employees happier and more productive, so not all employees can be called “slackers” if they surf the web at work. 


 Most analysts point to good reasons to monitor employees, mostly due to productivity issues as in this scenario.  The way employers see it, the minute web surfing starts equals the minute right before the “five o’clock whistle”.  Employers want to discourage this behavior and may implement a number of different ways to do so. These can include: restricting employees from installing programs on their workstation, using a firewall or proxy server to restrict access to websites or other Internet protocols, using a network monitoring system to "spy" on Internet access. Since employees are increasing in Internet usage, employers are increasing in Internet monitoring.  Tools such as Websense, com.Policy and SilentRunner make it easier and easier for employers to monitor computer activity.  But employers must be aware of current legal issues and past Legal issues that have appeared in the debate over employee web-surfing.  Most legislation to protect the employee in the U.S. has been shot down.  Now, the needs of employers in monitoring have created a new need for monitoring software and computer forensics experts.


International Legal Issues

Italy’s anti-terror law makes Internet cafe managers check their clients' IDs and track the websites they visit.

Britain has established laws that support the employers’ ability to monitor employees.





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