The dangers of Net use at work were highlighted again this week as the influential New York Times sacked 23 of its office staff Wednesday for sending "offensive" emails.
In the UK, there have been several "sacked for surfing" cases in the last year -- a council worker and a IT manager were fired for spending too much time on the Web -- experts suspect there are hundreds more that never get publicised.
According to a New York Times spokeswoman the sacked employees were violating both company and federal policy. "The content was offensive and inappropriate. Creating a hostile work environment is illegal in America and employers are required to take action," she said. Although she refused to give details of what employees were sending, she claimed the company acted correctly. "It was serious and violated our company values. Our email policy is quite clear and it was sent to all employees four months ago," she said.
Robin Bynoe partner with City law firm Charles Russell, doubts the sackings were justified. "It appears that the employees in the New York Times case were sending rude emails about the bosses. It is questionable if being rude about the boss is a sackable offence." Bynoe reckons bosses are overreacting. "People who run companies aren't used to the Internet or email and are frightened of not being able to control it. In most cases they are making fools of themselves," he said, adding that some bosses are using email abuse as a pretext for getting rid of troublemakers.
Bynoe thinks the whole issue raises questions about privacy, with current practise weighted heavily in favour of the employer. "People seem to believe employees can't use their systems for any personal use and that they have the right to monitor everything," he said. Bynoe predicts a spate of court cases as employees realise their bosses are interfering with their privacy.