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A Warning for Using the Internet at Work: A Case Study

By: Maggie Lonsdale BA (hons) - Updated: 29 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
 
Warning Internet Work Usage Employee

Now that practically everyone uses the internet at work, the rules of what is and is not acceptable are harder to police in the workplace. Although it is common sense to realise that offensive sites should not be accessed at work (perhaps not at all, but that’s a different article), it can be a minefield to learn the specific rules of your workplace.

Why You Must Read the Employee Handbook

For 27 year old accounts assistant Sara Bletchley, the unspoken rules of internet use at her workplace caused her to be given a warning after she did not read the employee handbook rules on internet usage at work.

Sara told us, “When I started working at the packaging company I was given a large employee handbook. The HR assistant told me that there was nothing unusual in it, so I just signed the slip to say I had read it and thought no more about it.”

The employee handbook contained a great deal of information about Sara’s job description, the fire safety rules and all manner of other details that were largely standard. However, as Sara’s previous employer was an online retailer, she had wrongly assumed that their internet usage policy was similar.

She continued, “To be honest, I didn’t really give it much thought. I would often surf the net on my lunch break, or send my friends emails. Although I used the internet at my desk every day, it was mainly for work and I didn’t use it excessively.”

Company Culture

It was this assumption of what constituted ‘excessive’ that got Sara into trouble as the internet usage policy as set out in the employee handbook stated that only certain approved sites could be accessed during work hours – not including any retail or email sites - including lunch time.

Sara explained, “I had worked there for nearly six months when I was called into the HR manager’s office for what they called an ‘unofficial meeting’. They said that they had been tracking which websites I had been using and saw that I often went onto a holiday booking site in work time. I explained that I had been looking to book my summer holiday and was seeing what the latest offers were, although I only did it in my lunch break. They said that this was not acceptable and showed me a list of the ‘allowed websites’. When I said that I didn’t realise and tried to apologise, they said that as I had signed the employee handbook document I should have known and that I would be given a formal warning!”

Moving On

Sara felt as though she was being made an example of as she was the most recent employee to join the company and, she found out later, there had been some problems with other people using the internet in work time already.

She concluded, “I felt very upset by the whole thing as, rather than just let me apologise and learn from the mistake, I felt they were watching me all the time and finding any reason to criticise my performance. Luckily, the HR manager found another job and left a few weeks later and her replacement was far easier to talk to, so my written warning was taken off my file after three months, although I still don’t use the internet in work time – and I wait until I get home to book holidays!”

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