TO: Chief Executive Officer of a Fortune 500 Company
FROM: Consulting Officer
DATE: November 20, 2015
SUBJECT: Employee Use of Internet at Work
The internet has changed the ways people in various organizations communicate and do their day to day businesses. Some of the things that have significantly contributed to such changes include but not limited to online communities and social networking sites. Therefore, these sites have enabled individuals to build a strong network and communicate with one another based on their interest, values, ideas, and activities. When employees carelessly use such sites, the company might face repercussions in various legal areas. It would be significant only if the company prevents internet abuse at all levels. As a consulting officer, the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company has requested me to write a memo on the employee use of internet at work. Also, the memo will address a proposal of two policies that might be used to prevent the abuse of internet by the employees. Precisely, this memo concerns with the following areas.
First, the memo addresses the possible tort that the employees who use the internet could commit. A tort is a wrongful act done by an individual that leads to civil legal liability. Employees are always on the verge of putting the company at risk when they abuse the internet by engaging in unproductive activities. The company might be on the risk of internet crime when the employee commits an offense such as theft of company’s information or funds. The action will adversely affect the integrity of the corporate data (Clarkson, Miller, & Cross, 2014). Similarly, the loss of customer and the company’s financial information are likely to cause long-term problems for the organization if the management does not deal with the situation promptly.
Besides, the company can be rendered liable for the actions caused by employees when they download or view pornographic materials from the internet. Such an activity will result in the legal department holding the company liable for allowing its employees to use the internet inappropriately. Moreover, the federal or state laws prohibit the exchange or purchase of pornographic content over the internet. However, the employee might not have the intention to harm the company but his or her action will always have adverse effects on the company’ reputation. Therefore, the company should protect its computers by using software that will curb certain types of communication over the internet (Jennings, 2009).
Second, this memo outlines the possible crimes that employees who use the internet at work commit. Precisely, the crimes committed would be either white or blue collar. Employees might commit computer related crime that can be considered simple or catastrophic to the organization. Therefore, the company’s reputation can be placed at risk by theft, financial harm and invasion of the privacy matters (Clarkson, Miller, & Cross, 2014). Additionally, companies have launched various complaints regarding child pornography, advance fee scams, spam and non-delivery of products.
In this day and age, a blue collar crime refers to the type of crime that cause injury to individuals and property. Also, this type of crime is more physical. They include drug, sex, assault and burglary crimes. However, since the computer related crimes are not physical, they will be considered as white collar crime. White collar crimes are also referred to as paper crimes since they are non-violent and mostly committed in a business setting. An example of a white collar crime that the employee might commit in an organization includes theft of fund from the employer or customer. Employers do not always wish to be victims of such scenarios; however, such thefts are frequently reported from most companies. Victimized employers usually end up firing or reporting the matter to the legal authority (Clarkson, Miller, & Cross, 2014). Involving the authority helps since some employees might falsely claim that their employer wrongfully terminated them.
Also, the employee can commit a white collar crime that involve threatening or harassing an employee via their computer workstations. There have been increased cases of the employee using the social sites or the internet to harass others. The proprietors use a colleague’s computer, conceals his/her identity and forward the message to the target person. Such messages are a threat to the target person and also the organization. Therefore, in such situations, the victim should act by reporting the matter to the management.
Third, the memo addresses the liability of the corporation versus the liability of the individual employee. Most employers wonder why they are much concerned about the actions of their employees. They should know that their employee’s actions are related to their responsibilities. Under the law vicarious liability, the company or employer is legally responsible for the activities of its employees. Respondeat superior or vicarious liability opens the employer to a variety of claims; however, it only applies to a situation when the employee acts under the responsibility of his/her employment. Moreover, corporations are always liable for the activities and contracts that the directors and employees enter on their behalf. Similarly, a pre-incorporation contracts entered by the company’s employees or promoters are also the responsibility of the company.
For example, Club Happiness Inc hired John, a known criminal as the bouncer at the club. Although the management knew the background of their employee, they decided not to fire him immediately. One day, John injured an employee of the club who then sued the company for his injury. The company was then liable for the actions caused by John. Similarly, the corporation will only accept the full legal responsibility for punitive damages if it authorized the tort committed by the employee.
The law holds true for the crime committed by the employee during business hours. Therefore, if the employees share inappropriate content from the internet within the workplace, then the company will be fully responsible for the crimes committed by its employees. Additionally, in case the employee commits such an offense on a personal computer or outside working hours, then he/she will be held liable for the actions done.
Fourth, the memo addresses the use of social media sites at work and whether there could be a violation of the duty of care or duty of loyalty. Individuals use social media sites to build a network and interact with one another (Vayrynen, Hekkala, & Liias, 2013). There has been an ongoing debate about whether or not employees should be allowed to use the social media sites at work. Although people have raised varied opinions regarding such debate, the main thing is that social media sites have advantages and disadvantages when used by employees.
Departments that deal with publicity, marketing and recruitment would benefits more from the use of social media sites. However, when they improperly use the sites, the result would be a tort liability and damage to the company’s reputation (Dennis, 2010). The question that keeps on disturbing people mind is that should all employees use social media at work or during business hours? Many companies do not recommend the use of social media sites during working hours. However, some think that it would be for the interest of the company if the employees are allowed to socialize and share their work with the rest of the world.
Regardless of the employment contract, individual in the employment sector owes his/her employer a duty of loyalty. Also, it is well explained that employees are always agents of their employer(s). According to section 387 of the Restatement of Agency, the law vividly explains that “unless otherwise agreed, an agent is subject to a duty to his/her principal to act solely for the benefit of the principal in all matters connected with his/her agency” (Clarkson, Miller, & Cross, 2014). The legal authorities usually apply the Restatement’s agency principle to depict an employee’s duty of loyalty. The principle requires all employees to act exclusively and benefits their employers but some violate their individual duty of loyalty when they use social media sites at work.
For example, when an employee is at work or a business trip and participates in distributing blog cards that encompass his/her personal websites, facebook and twitter accounts, then he /she would be violating a duty of loyalty (Dennis, 2010). The court will conclude that when an employee advertises his/her new business at work, then he/she would be breaching a duty of good faith and loyalty on behalf of the employer.
Employees are also required to follow a duty of care strictly when carrying out their operations. Therefore, this tort law state that an employee should adhere to a standard of care to avoid acts that could harm others. If an employee’s obligations do not meet this standard of care, then any damage caused would be claimed in a lawsuit as negligence. For example, if an employee uses the social media and engages in cyber-bullying by sending offensive emails, threats and defamatory gossips about other employees, he/she would be violating a duty of care. Others may breach a duty of care by sharing their colleague’s’ private data and harass them by sending persistent emails.
Fifth, this memo vividly stipulates the employee privacy rights regarding the use of internet at work. The use of internet at work has created more concern between the employer and the employee in the area of privacy. Companies nowadays use emails and internet to reduce their operating cost and facilitate communication over a wider geographical areas. As opposed to some years back, the use of emails and internet at work has explored to a greater extent. Employees have the right to privacy, but their rights should balance against their employer’s privileges. Therefore, many employers have technological access to every information on their employee’s computer. Companies use technology such as Investigator 2.0 and Silent Watch to monitor the target persons routinely. The software will then report back to the employer by summarizing the activities about the target’s computer.
There are diverse arguments that favor employees’ privacy. However, most companies also have their reasons as to why they would not grant this right to its employees. Some groups such as National Work Rights, American Civil Liberties Union, and Workplace Fairness support the workers. Such groups argue that secret monitoring by employers violate protected workplace rights. Therefore, according to them companies should stop employee monitoring at all. Besides, it would be absurd if the employer does not monitor employees’ online activities. It will be for the benefit of the company if the management monitors their employees’ computer use. This will alleviate their suspicion for those who might use the internet to carry out inappropriate activities such as cyber-bullying and revealing trade secrets.
Also, the use of email by employees have created workplace privacy problems. However, they are being used to make work efficient but the information sent using emails are stored on the hard drives of the workstation. Therefore, this acts as evidence of all the communication carried out by the employee. The recommendation is that all employee should review their emails before clicking the send button (Clarkson, Miller, & Cross, 2014). Some employee might think that by deleting the message they are safe. The management or someone else can retrieve the emails since they are saved on a network server.
Workers sometimes desire that their true rights to privacy extended to the workplace since they enjoy it in their everyday lives outside the workstation. In reality, employee’s right to privacy is always nonexistent when they are at work, or it is sometimes significantly less than what they enjoy when they are outside work.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S Constitution states that individuals have the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures (Clarkson, Miller, & Cross, 2014). However, this amendment considers only the government actions. Therefore, the government employee will have a stronger claim for protection against internet surveillance than private sector employee. Similarly, Electronic Communication Privacy Act (ECPA) protects employees against all forms of digital communication that include private emails (Clarkson, Miller, & Cross, 2014). The Act prohibits employers from the unauthorized and intentional interception of oral, wire and electronic communication in the workplace. Also, employers are prohibited from accessing their employees’ stored electronic communication. Mostly, it is the role of the employers to provide the network over which their employees use for communication. However, the ECPA will protect the employees from employer intrusions.
Sixth, the memo explains the employment laws that protect the employee or the employer on internet usage at work. As the use of internet expand, employers should be able to regulate and monitor how their employees use the social sites or the internet and particularly, the social media platform. Moreover, they should familiarize with the laws that govern their employees’ use of the internet. One of the laws that protect the employee is off-duty conduct law. The law forbids employers from carrying out adverse actions against an employee outside the workplace. The employer is subject to liability if he/she disciplines an employee for the actions of social media that is protected by off-duty conduct statute. Therefore, it is categorically outlined that the employee is legally protected from using the internet outside working hours.
Many companies use social media to vet their potential employees and also to obtain background checks. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the obtained information by the employer from the social media sites constitute a consumer report. Therefore, the employer is required to obtain an individual’s consent before going through such information. Without doing so, the employer will be prohibited from accessing the information and make employment decisions (Davison, Maraist, Hamilton, & Mark, 2012).
The National Labor Relation Act plays a significant role in social media policy and the employer’s action regarding those policies. In a case when an employer has a collective bargaining agreement with the labor unions, the act protects employee’s privacy interests. Similarly, non-union employees’ privacy interest are also protected under certain situations.
It is very important for the company to control the abuse of internet by creating policies that will stipulate the rights and responsibilities to everyone. Moreover, the policy should balance the employer and employee interests by defining the risks, security needs and expectations of the employees (Jennings, 2009). Therefore, the Chief Executive Officer can curb the potential for internet abuse at work by using the following recommended policies. First, for the low-level employees, the policy statement for internet usage is stated as follows. The employees should use the internet to further the company’s mission and offer the highest quality that will satisfy the customer, staff, and the company. It is the duty of the supervisors to work hand in hand with the employees so that they appropriately use the internet for professional activities. Therefore, the employees are individually responsible for any actions that will result in the violation of the company’s security policy and licensing agreement. The different modes of internet access provided to the employees are company’s resources, and the employees are required to use them for research and work related communication. Therefore, the company does not expect its employees to misuse its resources by engaging in activities that abuse the internet.
Second, for the company’s directors, the policy concerns harassment at work. The company’s policy prohibits harassment of junior employees by their seniors. Therefore, it is against the rule to transmit messages with inflammatory remarks that target individual or groups of employees. The company will enforce this policy so that individuals of different races, physical attributes, religion and sexual preferences are protected. Moreover, the company will not entertain such behavior even if the director finds a junior employee on the wrong side.
Ultimately, the following are recommendations to employers on how they should manage the use of internet at work so that employees could avoid abusing it. First, the company should ensure that all its employees have a policy on internet use. According to the recent information, the negative publicity from the high-profile cases is unwelcome to most employers. However, this is because employees express their interest by chatting with friends in the social media. Similarly, when employees engage in blogging, their content of the discussion is made available to the public (Vayrynen, Hekkala, & Liias, 2013). Therefore, the company should have a policy in place to clarify areas of internet usage by the employees.
Second, the employer should ensure that the policy on internet use is not complicated to understand. The policies should advise employees on their actions. For example, the policy should stipulate that what the employee is about to post to the public is something that his/her colleagues or boss would read. According to the research carried out, most employees who think that their employers will read their posts in the social media have always reviewed them before posting.
Third, the employers should review their policies on internet use regularly. The internet is a fast moving world, and employers should ensure that their policies are up to date since we always have the latest development relating to the internet. By reviewing the policy, the employer should involve the key stakeholders to address the organization’s main concerns.
Clarkson, K., Miller, R., & Cross, F. (2014). Business Law: Text and Cases. Cengage Learning.
Davison, H. K., Maraist, C. C., Hamilton, R. H., & Mark, N. (2012). To screen or not to screen? Using the internet for selection decisions. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 24 (1), 1-21.
Dennis, C. M. (2010). Legal implications of employee social media use. Massachusetts Law. Review, 93, 380.
Jennings, M. (2009). Business ethics: Case studies and selected readings. Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.
Vayrynen, K., Hekkala, R., & Liias, T. (2013). Knowledge protection challenges of social media encountrered by organizations. Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce, 23 (2), 34-55.
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