'No porn but small bets okay'

Many organisations appear to tolerate occasional non-business-related internet use as long as employees are not visiting sexually explicit sites.

Many organisations appear to tolerate occasional non-business-related internet use as long as employees are not visiting sexually explicit sites.

The government and private organisations consulted by Computerworld follow a mix of policies on the acceptable use of the internet by employees, but most tolerate small-scale non-business-related access to almost anything but sexually explicit material.

Even gambling, to the extent of an occasional dip into a racing website or buying a Lotto ticket once a week online, when and if the Lotteries Commission provides the capability, would probably be tolerated, says Child Youth and Family department spokesman Stephen Ward and Wellington City Council HR manager Alistair McIntosh. But an employee sitting over the racing form book all day or, McIntosh says, repeatedly accessing real-estate agents’ sites at work when house-hunting, would be likely to be warned by a supervisor to stop the practice. A small amount of personal email from the office is allowed to employees in both organisations. The council has software to detect attempts to access sex sites and a filter to detect use of certain words online, McIntosh says.

Carter Holt Harvey human resource advisor Owen Nash says the company has a “formal, clear and specific policy” which is broadly summarised in terms of behaving in a “professional manner” online. Specifically forbidden are accessing, downloading and distribution of pornographic or “offensive” or illegal material, or online distribution of material in a way “intended to annoy or harass” another person.

CHH uses software filters aimed at detecting such use. Dealing with pornography from work will result in instant dismissal, he says. Personal use of internet or email in moderation is tolerated. There is no monitoring aimed at seeking out and blocking other legal “vices” like gambling, but such use beyond a small amount “may become a management or supervision matter”, Nash says.

Computing services company EDS has a formal policy that forbids “attempting unauthorised access to resources [hacking], accessing offensive, vulgar or pornographic material, any purpose that would reflect unfavourably upon EDS’ reputation, such as the pursuit of illegal, unethical, or otherwise questionable goals, downloading non-business related files, accessing material in support or operation of any business other than that of EDS”. Personal use, the policy says, should “not interfere with work responsibilities, not interfere with business communication, be minimal”.

Inland Revenue has a written policy on the use of business tools. This says: “Accessing, downloading and/or storing material from inappropriate, indecent or offensive internet sites is strictly forbidden, as is sending or receiving inappropriate, indecent or offensive material via email. Use the internet only for business purposes or as agreed to by your manager. Example: Do not access, retrieve, distribute or store offensive or menacing material from the internet.”

Violating such guidelines will lead to “an investigation, following specific internal procedures. This may result in discipline action or in some cases may be considered serious misconduct and could lead to dismissal.”

There is “some discretion” for personal use of internet or email, says an IRD spokesman. “I can’t imagine [online gambling] would be permitted”.

In the last three years Inland Revenue has logged 15 offences against these rules, which have resulted in three dismissals and 12 warnings.

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