Sunday, April 19, 2009

Common sense when using the Internet, Facebook, e-mail, etc.

I'm a big fan of the new communication tools we have at our disposal. Obviously, I think this website is a great way to keep members informed, but I also like the whole concept of "social networking". Once a day I'll log on to Facebook and check the status updates of my friends -- I can keep up to date on everyone, and every now and again I'll connect with someone I haven't seen in years.

Having said that, I think it's also important to point out what I think should be obvious -- even the best tools, if used improperly, can lead to trouble.

First and foremost, you need to know that any e-mail or other messages, or websites visited using the employer's computers or other communications equipment, is not private. Your employer has the right to look at e-mails you've sent or received, and any websites you've been visiting using their equipment. What you may not know is that e-mails, even if deleted, can be retrieved, and all of the websites you visit can be tracked automatically.

I know all this first hand, because on more than one occasion I've had to sit with members who were facing discipline, in some cases very severe discipline, because of inappropriate use of the internet and e-mail. I've seen how easy it is for your boss to track and view all of your e-mail, the websites you've been on and even the phone calls you make.

There was a case in Ontario where an employee was fired for sending "Playboy magazine" type photos to his girlfriend using the company's e-mail. She didn't complain, and in fact was a willing recipient, but the company took a stand on e-mailing even "soft core" pornography with their computers.

Most employers have a policy that allows minor internet use for personal business, and I've never seen issues because someone logged on to check the weather or do some on-line banking. That minor usage is not what I'm talking about. The problem is when people do inappropriate things, send inappropriate e-mails or spend excessive amounts of time on the internet.

There have also been cases where people sent inappropriate messages using e-mail or chat lines to coworkers that crossed the line on appropriate workplace behaviour. And in those cases if the recipient brings it to your employer, it won't matter if it was sent after hours or from your home computer.

Some employers have blocked access to some social network sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Our members aren't blocked from these sites and although I haven't yet had to represent a member who has gotten in trouble for excessive use of these sites at work, I expect it will happen any time. I've heard rumours of members spending long periods of time chatting and surfing on Facebook while at work, and if this is true it is just a matter of time before someone gets in serious trouble.

As I said at the start of this post, I like these new tools, but they're best used at home, after work.

My strong advice is to follow some simple rules I've always followed during my career. Give a solid eight hours work for eight hours pay and don't do anything at work that you wouldn't be willing to do if your boss was looking right over your shoulder.

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