A guide to managing employee website usage
Whether employees are working from home, the coffee shop or the office, employers need to be mindful of the types of websites workers are accessing on their company- issued technology.
New accessibility creates greater flexibility, but employers need to be vigilant to ensure workers maintain the expectation of productivity and workplace privacy. Now more than ever, the workplace heavily relies on technology and companies must understand how to manage it to avoid risk.
Nowhere is the tension between technology and privacy rights more prevalent than in today’s workplace. At the forefront of this discussion is whether employers should block access to certain websites on company-issued technology. Here are key considerations and best practices to review when properly managing employee website usage.
Creating boundaries between work and personal affairs, without invading privacy.
Employees typically emphasize that their private affairs should not be accessed by their employer. But the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) states an employer-provided computer system is the property of the employer, so when an employee visits certain websites during typical office hours using company-issued technology, what is accessed by the employee becomes the employer’s business as well.
There is no denying that placing blocks on certain websites is an effective way to separate work and personal matters, maintain professionalism, protect the company’s security, respect company property and utilize work time appropriately. However, employers should beware of potential legality issues regarding privacy. For example, employees are given some protection from computer and other forms of electronic monitoring under certain circumstances.
Productivity distractions. Blocking certain websites will not prevent an employee from utilizing company time for personal reasons, but doing so reminds employees to have integrity, focus and discipline when it comes to using technology in the workplace. Some employees will use company-issued technology to visit a plethora of websites such as social media platforms, personal email accounts, instant messengers, financial institutions, sports, entertainment and music sites, as well as inappropriate websites. It is easy to become distracted with an overabundance of virtual activity at our fingertips, and blocking sites sends a serious message to workers that business technology and time is for business-purposes only.
Security of confidential company data and information. In today’s interconnected world, employers recognize the importance of protecting confidential company information. Employers often choose to block certain websites because of the risk of a security breach. Employers are concerned with the exposure of any release of its data, work products, ideas and information not otherwise disclosed to the public or its competitors. Blocking certain websites gives an organization an opportunity to decrease the risk of its confidential information being accessed by external influences.
What employers can do to be more transparent with staff
There are no foolproof methods to preventing an employee from using their work time for personal reasons or inadvertently exposing the company to security breaches.
Employees can still access many websites of their choosing through their personal technology. However, the aforementioned reasons are convincing enough for employees to take more accountability in using company-issued technology for business purposes only. An employer that endorses a policy and practice of business technology for business reasons sets a clear expectation for employees to remember and follow.
· Enforce a written policy that sets clear expectations for in-house and remote employees about not using company-issued technology to visit certain websites and explain the reason for such policies. Policies and procedures should be well-defined, widely communicated and reviewed at least annually.
· Inform new employees that certain websites are not accessible via company technology. Highlight the written policy for both new and existing employees. Again, explain the reason for this policy.
· Offer training and other educational opportunities that motivate productivity during times when work focus suffers.
· Work with the company’s internal IT department to ensure that websites are properly blocked.
Usually, when employers remain transparent with staff regarding why a policy exists, employees are more receptive. In general, employers are encouraged to consult with an experienced HR professional or employment lawyer to avoid any potential legality pitfalls in the workplace.