For 12 years, a senior insurance executive used two company-provided computers, one at the office and one at his home. He had signed his company's computer policy, agreeing to use the computers for business purposes only. He also consented to have his computer use monitored, and acknowledged that misuse could result in disciplinary action, including firing.
When he was fired for repeatedly accessing Internet porn sites while at work, he sued for. During the case, the company demanded access to his company-owned home computer. He refused, citing his right to privacy.
The California Court of Appeals rejected his privacy claim. Reason: The company's computer policy diminished the employee's expectation of privacy by clearly stating that electronic communications on its own computers are solely for company business. (TBG Insurance Services Corp. v. Zieminski, No. B153400, CA2/1, 2002)
Advice: If your company provides home-based PCs or laptops, include these machines in your policy on proper computer usage. This is particularly true if your company monitors, records and reviews employee communications on the job, something that the court noted more than 75 percent of major firms do regularly with phone calls, e-mail and Internet connections.
Make it clear to employees that these policies are in place not only to protect the company, but also to protect workers from unsafe or hostile work environments.