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Internet Misuse in the workplace

I - Designing an Internet Usage Policy

Because an Internet usage policy reflects a company?s corporate values, the AMA recommends that employees participate in its design. The role of an Internet usage policy is two-fold. It establishes the ground rules for Internet use in the workplace, and outlines the consequences of breaching the policy. To manage Internet usage, the key issues that need to be resolved are who can access what on the Internet and when this is appropriate. The who pertains to customizing Internet access by groups in the workplace. For example, sites that are essential for the finance division of a company may not be necessary for the administrative staff. Therefore, employees working in various areas of a company may have access to different sites on the Internet. The what is the complex issue. A company would need to catagorize which sites or types of sites it deems inappropriate or non-work related. The when means establishing an access policy for non-work related sites. For example, a company may decide to allow employees access to certain sites during lunch hour and after work hours. An Internet usage policy should not be overly rigid. There should be some leeway within these policies. Going to a pornographic web site once by accident should not result in an automatic dismissal. A flexible Internet usage also protects the employer. In the United States there was an example of a rigid policy that, instead of protecting the employer from a costly lawsuit, actually caused one. A San Diego lawyer reported that he obtained a settlement for a client accused of visiting a pornographic site at The officer insisted that this was an error; he had meant to go to, the official White House site. The officer sued for wrongful termination and eventually settled the suit for $100,000.

II - Enforcement of an Internet usage policy

The most effective way to eliminate Internet misuse is to eliminate Internet access when it is not essential. However, Internet access is an integral part of many modern businesses. With respect to enforcement, the AMA recommends using some type of online activity management software. According to an article in Fortune magazine, simply informing employees that this software is in place drastically reduces Internet misuse. But without effective enforcement of the policy, the misuse goes up again quickly. Online Activity Management software should address the three key issues raised in the development of the usage policy. In essence, OAM software should allow customized Internet access by individuals and groups in the workplace, as well as access by day and time to specific sites as established by the usage policy. It should also classify Internet sites into different categories such as pornographic or shopping, and permit or deny access accordingly. Classification lists are usually provided with the software and maintained by subscription. A company should choose an activity management software that addresses all their needs; i.e., it should be able to manage the web, e-mail, chat rooms and newsgroups. The software should offer client-side protection, to cover virtual offices and laptops, thereby closing the cyber back door. To combat the growing number of new web sites and variety of content types the software should be capable of examining text, images, and link relationships to determine classification. Once a policy has been defined, it needs to be integrated into the company's culture. The policy should be explained during recruitments, training and hiring.

III - Conclusion

Internet misuse is a growing problem that is costing Canadian companies over $16 billion annually in lost productivity. In addition to the monetary cost, Internet abuse contributes to an uncomfortable working environment and employee lawsuits. The best way to handle this problem is to establish an Internet usage policy guiding the use of the Internet in the workplace. Once such a policy is established, it needs to be ingrained into the corporate culture and effective enforcement mechanisms need to be in place. The use of online activity management software with up-to-date classification lists is the most effective way to enforce a usage policy.

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