Work surfing costs business £2.5m a year

Surfing in the workplace is pushing business costs through the roof

UK companies are losing up to £2.5m each year because staff are surfing the Net, according to a report published Thursday.

The findings, which relate to non-work related surfing, could encourage employers to keep a closer eye on the Internet activities of staff and develop policies for acceptable Internet use at work.

The research has been published in a business practices handbook entitled Internet Use and Abuse at Work produced by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), based in London. It concludes that, as well as reducing productivity, Internet use unrelated to work can be a serious legal minefield for firms. Unchecked Internet and email use can lead a firm into all sorts of difficulty, including lawsuits, the report suggests.

The CIPD estimates that around 84 percent of workers in the UK have virtually unlimited access to the Internet and email, and recommends that companies adopt a policy outlining the extent to which workers may use the Internet for personal purposes and the types of activities that are prohibited.

"If employers don't review their policies, they could find themselves liable for anything from sexual harassment claims to being in breach of copyright laws," the report's author Clare Hogg says in a statement.

A string of recent controversies involving misuse of the Internet at work also indicate that companies should be aware of potential dangers. Last month Orange dismissed staff for distributing "obscene material" using email and earlier this month investment bank Merrill Lynch fired 15 employees for sending sexually explicit content via email.

Hogg says that many workers may be unaware of the legal liability their company has for their email and Internet pursuits. "A survey in 1999 found that 50 percent of workers were using the Web to visit 'adult' sites, clearly having such a policy is vital although, as the book explains, the present legal situation is uncertain."

Earlier this week the UK government introduced regulations giving employers the legal power to intercept email communications at work without the consent of employees. The government says that safeguarding against illegal use of corporate email systems is a major reason for introducing these powers.

What should employees' rights be at work when it comes to the Internet and email? To have your say online click on the TalkBack button and go to the ZDNet News forum.

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