The investigation into pornographic material downloaded onto computers highlights one of the dangers an employer can face from employee’s use of work computers for non-work matters.Employees can face prosecution.  The employer faces major costs in investigating, cleaning their system and in lost productivity as staff are suspended or dismissed.

Even if your staff’s computer usage never gets close to the “pornographic” material problem you may still be losing huge amounts of productivity and incurring costs of extra capacity and machinery installed to cope with what may not even be business use.

In a recent case a client discovered that they were paying for unlimited capacity and had installed several computer hardware items which were the result of an employee’s personal use of the Internet for downloading of movies and programmes.  Not only had the employer paid the employee to work when they were not but they had paid for the extra equipment and had to pay an IT consultant to discover what was happening.

Even a few minutes here and there dealing with personal emails or searching the net soon adds up at so many minutes per day.  Now multiply that by the number of staff you have.  Calculate their salary and the lost income and see how much you are losing.

Many problems stem from lax policies on personal Internet or computer usage.  How do you define “minimal use” or “limited use?

If you let one employee get away with it how do you deal with others?

Set clear guidelines as to what is acceptable.  Make sure your staff are made aware of what the guidelines are.

Do not put them in an employment agreement.  If you do, you will have to get the employee’s consent to alter them.  Instead set them out in your workplace policy manual.  These can be changed whenever necessary and just need to be brought to your employees’ attention when they come into force.

Random checks can help uncover inappropriate use and may discourage it from occurring.  Make sure that there is a process for checking what the IT staff get up to as well.