Why Your Business Needs a Computer Use Policy

“… everyone is going to have a computer and everyone is going to have unlimited access to the Internet and everyone is going to have an e-mail account. And that, as you know, can cause some problems. That means we need a computer use policy. And when we say computer use we mean not only the computer on your desk, but every thing that you can do with your computer. We mean how you use your e-mail account, how you use the Internet and what you do on social media. So our computer use policy is going to deal with all of those things.” (From Zo’s Employee Handbook Part V: Computer Use, Social Media And Internet Use Policy by Warner Norcross & Judd) 

It’s hard to imagine a workplace without computers, but we seldom hear much about formal employee computer-use policies. Does your business have one? Probably not – and yet, as the legal roundups below show us, such policies are becoming a business necessity, both to minimize very real risks in the workplace, and to protect your company’s brand and reputation in the age of social media: 

On the Misappropriation of Company Data…

“Employers that provide employees unfettered access to company computer systems may unwittingly forfeit a valuable statutory remedy against the misappropriation of electronic data. Accordingly, such employers should ensure that they have a computer use policy in place that explicitly distinguishes between authorized and unauthorized use.” (From The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act – The Benefits of a Computer Use Policy That Restricts Employee Access by Bryan Cave) 

On Paying Your Employees for Time in Front of the Computer…

“Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a settlement with Hilton Reservations Worldwide, LLC, in which the company agreed to pay $715,507 in minimum wages and overtime pay to 2,645 current and former customer service employees in Texas, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania. The DOL determined after an audit that the company failed to pay workers for pre-shift activities such as booting up their computers, launching necessary programs, and reading work-related e-mails.” (From Starting Computers and Reading E-Mail May Be Compensable Work by Franczek Radelet P.C.) 

On Thinking Before You Hit “Send”…

“What clearly was convincing to the Court was the supervisor’s email — a missive that specifically referenced Shaffer’s request for FMLA leave. Although Shaffer’s request for leave may have had nothing to do with his actual layoff, the content of the email put Shaffer in a good position to argue that a jury should decide whether the need for leave was a motivating factor in the decision to eliminate the position.” (From Supervisor’s Inadvisable Email Creates Basis for FMLA Claim by Franczek Radelet P.C.) 

On Social Media Background Checks…

“We recommended that businesses establish an internal procedure for making employment decisions based on Internet research, so they would not run afoul of state and federal laws that prohibit job discrimination based on protected factors… especially when you consider that 54% of employers surveyed in 2011 acknowledged using the Internet to research job candidates.” (From Legal Issues Surrounding Social Media Background Checks by Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP) 

On “Facebook Firings”…

“Under the NLRA, an employee – even a non-union employee – who engages in ‘protected concerted activity’ cannot be punished or terminated… The [Administrative Law Judge] went on to determine that the posting did not rise to the level of disparagement necessary to deprive otherwise protected activities of the protection of the Act. The Judge found that although the comments accompanying the posting were ‘mocking and sarcastic, that did not take them outside the protection of the Act.’” (From Dealership Update – November 2011: A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words – And Facebook Ups That Ante by Fisher & Phillips LLP) 

On Social Media Policies…

“Whether your Company implements a ‘Use but don’t Abuse’ or ‘No Use = No Abuse’ philosophy regarding social media, the social media polices need to be in writing.” (From Implementing The Right Game Plan For Social Media: Current Issues And Developments by Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.) 

“It is essential for employers to develop a social networking policy, especially in light of the many legal issues that may arise. Employers must consider the many goals that the policy intends to cover, such as: protecting the company’s trade secrets, confidential, proprietary and/or privileged information; protecting the company’s reputation; protecting the privacy of employees; and establishing guidelines for whether use of social networking sites during working hours is permitted, and if so, under what circumstances.” (From Creating a Social Media Policy by Dinsmore & Shohl LLP) 


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