Is It Ethical to Monitor Staff Internet Usage During Breaks?

In recent years, the topic of workplace ethics has continuously grown as it is given more attention and importance. Now more than ever before, HR is focused on the ethical treatment of employees and the things companies can do to promote a healthy work/life balance.

With that said, one important topic that often comes up during the discussion of ethical workplace practices is how employees spend their breaks. Breaks have certainly been recognised as a crucial part of any balanced work day, but Is It Ethical to Monitor Staff Internet Usage During Breaks?

Consider Company Security

The biggest point that should be made and considered during this discussion has little to do with a company’s values and much more to do with a company’s need to protect its infrastructure.

The most critical concern that a company needs to consider when thinking about staff internet usage has to do with the growing risk of viruses and network infections that could potentially damage the company and make systems vulnerable.

For this reason alone, staff internet usage is something that should always be monitored. However, mounting examples exist demonstrating the many reasons why you should be monitoring your employees’ internet usage any time they are in the workplace.

Recently, The Balance Careers published a piece describing two different instances of employees breaching company policy, one of which led to the employee being terminated.

In the first situation, an employee was actually found to be abusing their internet privileges at work by spending multiple hours looking for a new job and even shopping and sorting through recipes while on the clock. The second situation, however, was much worse.

After one employee was reported to have changed the position of their computer so no one else could see their screen, the IT department looked into their internet usage. It was discovered that the employee was downloading pornographic content and watching it at work.

As the article explained, “...if the employer had remained unaware that the employee was viewing porn, the employer could have been put in the position of a potential lawsuit for sexual harassment or a hostile work environment claim.” (The Balance)

From this example alone, it becomes readily apparent that monitoring employee internet usage is paramount to maintaining a productive work environment for everyone--regardless of whether a staff member is "on a break" or on the clock.

In all, there are a handful of risks associated with internet misuse at work, including:

  1. If employees view inappropriate content, it can lead to hostile workplace claims that put the company at risk of a lawsuit.
  2. If employees are able to access social networks and IM sites at work, productivity can suffer as a result.
  3. If employees are able to stream music and/or video at the workplace, it can quickly kill internet speeds and affect other workers.
  4. If employees access a website or click a link that has been infected with spyware, malware, or a phishing scheme, they could put the company at risk.

Educating Your IT Team

In the workplace, every employee should be working together towards creating a supportive and productive environment. That’s why you should clearly lay out the rules for internet usage in the manual and guidebooks, and also take the time to speak with employees about why the rules are in place.

When it comes to your IT department, they should also be well-versed on how employees can and cannot use the company’s internet and devices at work. If someone is alerted of a potential breach of company policy regarding internet usage, the IT department should look further into the employee’s activities to see if there has been a violation.

Filters and other measures can also be implemented which will either block certain content completely, preventing employees from accessing it, to begin with, or they can be set up to alert an administrator when employees do attempt to access such content.

Of course, a company needs to go much further than simply blocking certain websites or monitoring social media usage. In reality, your company must be proactive about security with multiple layers implemented in order to truly keep systems safe and secure.

Steps to Improved Security

Deploying your own company WiFi is probably the first step your company should take so as to monitor device usage in the workplace and prevent misuse from occurring.

The WiFi deployment provided by Haptic will aim to eliminate slow speeds, dead spots, and fix access issues, meaning all of your employees will gain access to a secure Wifi network that you can monitor.

The next step, of course, is installing and setting up the right software so that you are able to monitor internet usage and put some safeguards in place to help prevent misuse. With our specialisation in security, we will take a ground-up approach that will include penetration testing.

We can get your company set up with device and user-level security along with company-wide protocols and our Ongoing Security as a Service (SECaas) protection. These things are absolute must-haves considering that data breaches are on the rise.

The next layer of protection that Haptic Networks can help your company implement is filtering. This is a form of blocking that will prevent users from accessing specific websites and specific types of content.

Aside from blocking pornographic content and the like, your company may also choose to block irrelevant websites that employees should not be using at work, such as social media networks, personal email accounts, shopping websites, and so on.

By filtering such content, you will help keep employees in line with company policy, even at times when they would otherwise disregard company policy (whether intentionally or not).

This can prove to be an extremely valuable implementation on behalf of the company because it can help prevent policy breaches and disagreements from the beginning while keeping the workplace productive and focused.


Looking to learn more about how you can keep your company’s workplace secure and on task? Contact us today for a no obligation chat. You may also be interested in our Network Security Checklist, which can be downloaded here.

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