Should You Be Fired for Using the Internet While at Work?

Freeman Klopott, Medill News Service
PC World
Wednesday, May 3, 2006; 12:10 AM

WASHINGTON -- BlackBerry devices. Cell phones. Pagers. Wireless Internet access. Broadband at home.

The growing list of communications technologies that links workers to the workplace 24/7 increasingly is blurring the lines between work and home.

Employees surf the Web at work, checking the weather, making travel plans, and shopping. At home, many send e-mail, continue their work chores on the Internet, and otherwise stay connected with their professional lives.

While employers rarely discourage the extra work done at home, many want employees' attention focused on work while at the office.

In a recent In a recentdecision , a New York City administrative law judge adds another angle to the debate between employers and employees over personal use of the Internet in the workplace. Ruling in the case of an employee who allegedly used the Internet for personal reasons during work hours, the judge, John B. Spooner, compared Internet use at work to reading a newspaper or making a telephone call. (Go In a recentdecision, a New York City administrative law judge adds another angle to the debate between employers and employees over personal use of the Internet in the workplace. Ruling in the case of an employee who allegedly used the Internet for personal reasons during work hours, the judge, John B. Spooner, compared Internet use at work to reading a newspaper or making a telephone call. (Gohere for more on the increased use of the Internet as a news source.)

"It should be observed," Spooner wrote, "that the Internet has become the modern equivalent of a telephone or a daily newspaper, providing a combination of communication and information that most employees use as frequently in their personal lives as for their work."

Spooner recommended that Toquir Choudhri, a 14-year veteran of the city Department of Education, receive the slightest reprimand for insubordination, even though supervisors wanted him fired for using the Internet for personal matters after he was told not to.

Lee Rainie of the Pew Internet and American Life Project says it "sounds like the judge was recognizing a reality for lots of workers."

Rainie says the "boundary between work and leisure, work and home, is becoming more permeable."

The New York administrative court's rulings serve as recommendations to city department heads who make a final decision. In fiscal year 2005, 99 percent of department heads agreed with the findings and altogether rejected just 16 percent of the recommendations.

Despite the mixing of work and personal time, employers fear the loss of salaried time from workers who are not devoting all their workplace time to, well, work.

A recent survey by A recent survey bySalary.com claims employers waste $759 billion per year paying for employees who are online for personal reasons. But Rainie calls this and other reports like it "junk pieces of research" because they don't account for work at home.


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