Surfing results in sacking

Surf the Net at work and you could be sacked if the case of a Cheshire office worker is anything to go by.

Lois Franxhi, an IT manager at Focus Management Consultants, was sacked in July last year for using the Internet to book a holiday. In what could prove to be a landmark case, an industrial tribunal yesterday found in favour of her employers.

Use of the Internet at work is increasing. According to figures from industry analyst IDC companies can lose up to £3m a year in wasted time and bandwidth as a result of employees surfing the Net. It is predicted up to 20 percent of browsing done at work is unrelated to the job employees are doing.

Executive chairman of ISP association LINX (London Internet Exchange) Keith Mitchell is hopeful the case will not set a precedent. "There is no fundamental implications here but a warning to employers that there needs to be a clear policy for acceptable use of the Internet, " he said. He believes the case highlights the importance of the Internet to office life. "The Internet has been elevated to the same status as the fax or the phone and most employers are happy for people to use these for some amount of personal use," he said.

David Hands, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses agrees. "Tribunals don't set precedents," he said. "But there is a need for guidelines between employers and employees about what staff can and cannot do," he said.

Richard Woods, spokesman for UUNet -- the leading provider of Internet access to UK businesses -- drew an analogy with a chocolate factory. "People just starting work in a chocolate factory will abuse that privilege for a while but after time things will settle down," he said. He has sympathy for the dismissed woman. "Human nature doesn't change because of a high-tech environment and people need to understand human nature." He suggest employers worried about employee time spent online could set up controls so certain URLs could only be accessed outside office hours.