Nobody wants to be that boss who says no to personal internet use at work. However, if your employees are using a business computer to check their private emails and browse websites, it can pose a business risk and can create significant liability issues for your company. Therefore, it is essential for employers to have clear, specific internet usage policies that are widely communicated and consistently enforced to minimise your risk.
Through vicarious liability, employers could be held responsible for the actions or omissions of their employees. Therefore, a company could legally be held liable for any illegal or discriminatory content that employees view or distribute on those computers. Such as:
- Discrimination and harassment You would be vicariously liable, and could be sued for any discrimination and sexual harassment that results from an employee sending inappropriate or offensive emails, or from an employee viewing pornography, other sexually explicit material, or content that promotes hate and discrimination. Even if your employee is not distributing the content, another employee walking by could be offended and sue the company for being subjected to a hostile work environment.
- Illegal activity You would be vicariously liable for an employee whose computer activity involved or led to illegal activity. This can include accessing illegal information, participating in illegal activities online or using information found online to commit a crime. Even if the employer was unaware of the inappropriate or illegal computer activity, it can be liable for negligent supervision of employees.
- Misuse of company email addresses Another type of legal liability could result from improper use of company email. For example, if an employee sends personal email from his or her company account, or uses his or her company email address to identify themselves in a chat room or on a website, then the company is liable for any statements made or actions performed. This could bring up issues of defamation, discrimination or links to illegal activity simply by the employee misusing a company email account.
- Technological Risks Accessing unauthorised websites can also pose risks to the company’s computer or network. Just one click of the mouse can expose a computer to a destructive virus or allow a hacker access to sensitive company information.
Costs of Liability
There can be significant costs, financial and otherwise, associated with claims of computer or internet abuse by employees. Legal actions and settlements can be extremely costly to the company, whether it is for discrimination, harassment or illicit activity. In addition, dismissing employees guilty of misconduct can be expensive and time-consuming, both in finding and training a replacement, and in potential legal fees if there is a legal dispute as a result.
Also, the company can suffer from a damaged reputation from the incident, and its name may become linked in people’s minds as associated with the incident.
Apart from insuring this risk, there are also steps you should take to minimise your exposure.
Employee Computer Usage Policy
The first step for employers to protect the company is to have a thorough, specific and well-communicated Employee Computer Usage Policy. Not only can such a policy help prevent improper or illegal computer activity by employees, it will also go far to protect the company in the event of an investigation or legal action.
The policy should emphasise that the employees are using company property and that there are no reasonable expectations of privacy when working on company equipment. This extends to all websites visited and emails sent or received. The policy should make clear that the company ‘owns’ the employee’s emails and that they can be viewed at any time and/or used against the employee in future legal proceedings.
It is also vital that the policy spell out what the company deems as inappropriate use: hate, discrimination, harassment, child pornography, illegal content, sexually illicit content, etc. In addition, it should explain the consequences for abusing computer usage privileges or failure to follow any portion of the policy.
In the long run the best way to reduce your insurance costs is to reduce your risks, so alongside a tailored insurance package, we provide our clients with the tools they need to reduce their risks and build their business resilience.
We can provide you with templates and action plans to help you protect your business. Give us a call today 01476 434 050 or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t just renew your insurance this year, review and reduce your risks too.