April 25, 2017

The Internet has become an essential tool for most businesses. But used improperly, it can significantly cut employee productivity as well as present security and legal risks.

Installing technology to block some applications and filter material that is allowed into the system can help, but your company should also have a written policy outlining unacceptable staff uses of the Internet.

When considering a policy, you should address at least five issues:

1. Productivity – Clearly state whether employees are allowed to use the Internet for personal use. You might allow them to use the network for personal purposes during a break or at lunchtime, although that poses risks, but during working hours, time spent surfing the Internet, sending personal e-mail messages, chatting online, playing games or shopping can significantly lower productivity, costing your business time and money. In fact, it’s estimated that Internet misuse in the workplace costs American companies more than $85 billion a year in lost productivity.

2. Security – Generally, companies don’t allow employees to download offensive content, engage in threatening or violent online behavior, take part in illegal activities or engage in commercial endeavors that aren’t related to your own business. File sharing and online chatting is also often banned because those activities open a data ‘tunnel’ between two or more PCs that can be used to gain access to your network. Studies have shown that nearly 80 percent of instant messaging in the workplace is done over AOL, Yahoo or MSN, exposing companies to security risks. In addition, downloaded program files can contain viruses, worms or spyware. Some of this malicious programming can use up your system’s memory and bring it to a halt.

3. Resource Consumption – File sharing networks consume costly bandwidth when downloading or uploading programs. In addition, hackers often upload files that they wish to distribute to a compromised system to take advantage of higher bandwidth, which can degrade your network performance. And, of course, keeping music or photos on network PCs takes up huge amounts of storage space.

4. Legal Liability – Unrestricted access to the Internet can leave your business open to potential lawsuits. If, say, an employee deliberately or inadvertently reaches an objectionable website and another employee sees it, your business could be liable for charges of sexual harassment or creating a hostile work environment. In addition, downloading copyrighted material, such as music, is illegal and could leave your company vulnerable to fines, legal costs and attorneys’ fees. Under U.S. copyright law, there is a maximum penalty of $150,000 for each violation, plus punitive damages and possible imprisonment.

5. Negative Publicity – In addition to the potentially damaging publicity that could result from an employee lawsuit or criminal charges related to an employee’s online activities, there is the concern of posting or forwarding inappropriate material through email to persons outside the company. How often do you receive an e-mail joke with a great number of addressees? What if objectionable content is sent by one of your staff members (especially from a work e-mail address) to one of your clients or business partners?

The Internet is a valuable tool in the workplace but it does present risks. Controlling staff use of the Internet helps to reduce your company’s legal liability and the threat of damaging and costly viruses. It makes good business sense.

© 2017