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Blind sided by an employee’s inglorious Internet activity

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in Centerpiece,HR Management,Human Resources

by Mindy Chapman, Esq.

Wonder what employees are really doing on those computers all day? A new court ruling shows that if they’re engaging in illegal cyber activities, you can show them the door. Just make sure you’ve shown them your cyber rulebook first …

Case in Point: Electrician Kipp Keller worked on the third shift at an Indiana metal manufacturer. One evening, Keller brought his personal laptop to work and connected it to the Internet to download newly released movies, including “The Blind Side,” “Avatar” and “Inglorious Bastards.”

The movie downloads clogged the company’s Internet pipeline, using 88% of the company’s bandwidth. The IT department pinpointed Keller’s office as the cause for the Internet traffic jam, which led to response-time problems for the service center.

Upon investigation, HR found him at his desk with his laptop plugged into the company’s Internet. By then, Keller had already downloaded 15 movies.

The company terminated him for violating its IT policy, which included rules pertaining to “misuse or failure to exercise due care for all tools, equipment or company property,” “any unauthorized entry into company property,” and “engaging in personal work unless authorized.”

Keller filed a wrongful termination claim, arguing that the IT policy did not specifically list “downloading movies on a personal computer” as an offense.

The result: An arbitrator sided with the company and a court agreed, up­­holding the termination. It said Keller admitted what he did violated federal law and he acknowledged he was trained on the company’s IT policy, which included a list of prohibited conduct but which clearly stated the list was “not all-inclusive.” (In re Hayes Int’l and Steelworkers Local 2958, Arb. (Cohen), 8/10/11)

3 lessons learned … without going to court

1. Have an IT policy. Make sure it lists a variety of prohibited conduct like “theft or misappropriation of company property.” But make sure it also includes language that the list is “not all-inclusive” because no one could ever dream up all the infractions em­­ployees could engage in.

2. Conduct training. The court strongly weighed policy training in favor of the employer. The return on that investment of time was well worth it to stop this case in its tracks.

3. Monitor employees. Employees can be engaging in federal crimes, putting the company at risk for liability. What organization needs to be the subject of that scary movie?

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Author: Mindy Chapman is an attorney and  president of Mindy Chapman & Associates LLC. She is a master trainer, keynote speaker and co-author of the book, Case Dismissed! Taking Your Harassment Prevention Training to Trial. Sign up to receive her blog postings at BusinessManagementDaily.com/Mindy.

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