Thursday, September 13, 2012

Workplace Internet Use by Greg

Adam Hunter's CBC report features my brief comment on how web surfing at work can serve as grounds for discipline or dismissal. But I'll expand somewhat on the factors which may affect an employer's ability to rely on personal web use to take action against an employee.

First, there's the employer's policy (assuming an employer has one - though the lack of a specific policy don't necessarily rule out discipline or dismissal if an employee's online activity is serious enough to provide just cause on its own even without a warning).

Where a policy is in place, the factors to take into consideration are the wording of the policy itself, whether it's brought to the affected employee's attention, and how stringently the policy is enforced in general - as courts and arbitrators alike will generally be hesitant to find grounds for dismissal in behaviour that's accepted from other employees.

Second, there's the legislation governing the employer. At the moment, there's no specific legislation governing the collection and use of personal information by provincially-regulated private employers in Saskatchewan. But federally-regulated and public-sector employers are subject to legislation limiting what they can collect and use - meaning that they'll need to point to some valid purpose in looking at an employee's personal activity.

Finally, there's the question of whether or not the workplace is unionized. If so, and if terms surrounding online activity have not been collectively bargained with the union, then the employer will normally have to exercise its authority to review employee computer use and impose associated discipline in a reasonable manner.

Again, the sure way to avoid discipline for personal use of work equipment is to avoid mixing the two. But that may not be possible for reasons beyond an employee's control - for example, if a work contact begins a personal conversation through a work e-mail account. And clear guidelines as to what content is permitted and what will give rise to discipline can help both employers and employees to know in advance what's appropriate at work.

This blog consists of general legal information only, and does not constitute the provision of legal advice to any person or organization. Please contact me at if you require legal advice related to employee use of computer equipment or related privacy issues.

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