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Employee rights and internet use in the workplace

For most companies in Houston, some level of computer interaction is inevitable, and for many of these, large amounts of the business are conducted online. Employees often have personal online accounts such as email and social media, and they may be tempted to access these while on the clock and using the company’s business computers. According to the Houston Chronicle, whether or not they may be held accountable for these may be a legal issue that has the potential to end in employment litigation.

As a representative of the company, an employee may put the business at risk if he or she conducts illegal activities from a work computer or email account. Too, internet access presents an outlet with which a worker may share trade secrets and other confidential information. Even basically harmless interactions such as online games may be compromising company productivity. These factors demonstrate an employer’s need to create limits and define appropriate online use in the workplace.

The danger of viewing the personal accounts that employees have accessed on company computers is the possibility of violating federal or state privacy laws. For example, as the U.S. Small Business Administration points out, employees’ rights to privacy regarding their emails and other personal messages are protected by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. However, there are exceptions.

Because of the threats to company security and productivity, the legal system acknowledges employers’ rights to develop policies that allow them to monitor business communications. If employees are notified of these policies, they are unlikely to be able to successfully sue the company for breach of privacy.

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