Internet abuse is top reason for workplace discipline

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Internet abuse is top reason for workplace discipline

E-mail and Internet abuse is now the number one reason for disciplinary action in companies in the UK, according to a survey carried out by London law firm KLegal and Personnel Today magazine.

The survey of 212 employers revealed 358 examples of disciplinary action for e-mail and Internet abuse against 326 for dishonesty, violence and health and safety breaches put together in the last 12 months.

Of the 358 cases brought, 69 people were disciplined for excessive amounts of time using the Internet or e-mail for personal use, and five of those were dismissed. Pornographic e-mail resulted in 64 disciplinary cases and the sacking of 25 employees. Surfing pornographic sites led to 53 disciplinary cases and nine dismissals. Sending e-mail that could damage a company's reputation brought 49 cases and two dismissals.

The survey found that most companies are now monitoring workplaces but the frequency of monitoring varies dramatically. More than 20% of organisations monitor daily, 10% weekly and another 10% monthly. In 27% of cases human resource managers do not know how often monitoring is done and 12% admit to only a quarterly check.

More than 90% of organisations tell their staff about the monitoring, with the remainder breaking the law by monitoring in secret.

There is a total ban on personal e-mail at 10% of companies surveyed and on personal use of the Internet at 13%. At the other extreme 14% of companies have no policy on e-mail and 13% no rules on Internet use.

Stephen Levinson, partner at KLegal said most organisations are not communicating their Internet and e-mail policies effectively. Information has to be pushed out regularly, according to Levinson. "You have to make enough noise and let people know they're being watched. Spell out what's acceptable and what's seen as an offensive joke. If you want to be tough, you have to be very specific," Levinson said.

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