Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Employer Fined $4000 for Looking at Email Accounts of Employees

Techdirt alerts us to a story about an employer who was fined $4000 for snooping through an employee's email, not company email, but a personal email. The email was able to be accessed because the former employees (one of whom was fired, the other quit) saved their passwords on the company's computer. Stupid employees. Stupid judicial system.  These employees should owe the employer $4000 for the wages they were paid while playing on their personal email on his time!
      As social networking continues to gain popularity and the masses become computer literate and workplaces become more reliant on computers and online services, this type of situation will become more prevalent. There have been numerous stories about worker's online exploits during work that have resulted in the courts siding with the worker.
      What is disturbing is that in order to check on employees that you suspect are off task and abusing the internet, you have to look at what they are doing.  Should you need a court order to open a worker's web history and view their activities?
      We recently had to terminate an employee who abused the internet. Other managers and I would catch the employee on sites that were off-limits except during breaks. He was told repeatedly about his usage of email, Facebook, forums, etc. Still he visited them on an hourly basis.  One day he visited 260 pages that were non-work related in one shift. After his shift our IT person blocked certain sites from his workstation (including Facebook, his online email provider, etc.).  The next day he used proxy sites to gain access to Facebook, where he proceeded to post negative remarks about work. So after his shift, IT blocked over 200 proxy sites. The next day he found even more proxies. This went on for three days until he was finally terminated.
      And then there's the issue of these idiots staying signed in to their email and Facebook. Nobody in their right mind should save any passwords at work, especially on a shared computer, but still they do. The workers who come in for second shift started checking Facebook (among other sites) to see if the person from the last shift had stayed logged in. So when they find that they can access the other worker's accounts, more time gets wasted, and then they start to banter back and forth about what stupidity was posted and it becomes a contest to see who can waste the most time.
       Sure, we could block everything except our company's websites, but there is a lot of research that goes into many jobs here, therefore there is a need to have pretty broad access to the internet. Needless to say, today we implemented a policy where the employees are not allowed to access certain sites and have added a clause to our company rules that allow access to workers' web history and access to pages visited, including password protected pages, provided that the password is saved on the machine and/or the worker is still logged in.

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