Employees Use Work Internet for Personal Reasons. So What?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 15, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

While you're slaving away in the legal department, reviewing corporate contracts, company greeting cards, and H.R. policies, half of the company is streaming cat videos and shopping on Amazon. That is, if they're anything like the average American. A new FindLaw.com survey shows that half of all Americans use work Internet for personal use.

But does it matter?

No, We're All Grown Ups Here

Most companies have policies limiting employee Internet use at work, but those don't seem to be having much of an impact. According to the FindLaw survey, 50 percent of adult Americans admit to using the Internet for personal matters while on the clock. The top five personal uses are:

  • Personal email, 34 percent
  • Facebook or social media, 36 percent
  • News, 27 percent
  • Online shopping, 23 percent
  • Streaming videos, 19 percent

But perhaps it doesn't matter. Proper management should ensure that employees are doing their work in a productive manner, regardless of whether they check Twitter on their breaks. Blocking Internet activity and putting on web filters can actually limit employee productivity, keeping workers away from information they might need to do their job. Plus, Internet policies that are too restrictive can easily violate rights protected by the National Labor Relations Act, like the right of employees to discuss work conditions with each other.

Yes, Work Is for Work, Not Cat-Cucumber Videos

Of course, going commando when it comes to Internet usage can leave your company at risk. Aside from lost work hours, there's the cost of stolen bandwidth. Keeping the company's computer network up and running can be expensive and Internet activities like downloading files or streaming media can quickly eat up your network's bandwidth, slowing down both productive and slacking employees.

Employees who use company time and resources to engage in illegal activities online can also open employers to risk. If your workers are downloading protected intellectual property, harassing others online, or trading Bitcoins for heroin from their office computer, you could be open to liability.

Then, of course, there are the endless viruses. Employees who abuse work Internet may expose the company to cybersecurity risks. As the saying goes, one bad computer worm can spoil the whole data-security bunch.

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