Surfs Up—and Legal—on Company Time

A New York City judge says it is OK to browse the Web on company hours, but the IT guys might disagree.

Cubicle-dwellers across the country rejoiced April 24 as an administrative law judge determined that an Education Department worker in New York City had been unfairly penalized after being axed for browsing news and travel Web sites on company time.

"It should be observed that the Internet has become the modern equivalent of a telephone or a daily newspaper, providing a combination of communication and information that most employees use as frequently in their personal lives as for their work," wrote Judge John Spooner in a statement.

Arguing that the same standard should be applied to Internet use as to other personal activities at work, Spooner argued that it only mattered that these idle pursuits do not affect job performance.

But, the IT guys might disagree.

"It was interesting to me that it was considered the same as using the telephone on the job. But what about what companies spend on additional bandwidth?" said Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of Strategy and Marketing of Yoh Services LLC, a provider of technology talent.

A report released in July 2005 by Websense, a provider of employee Internet management solutions, said it costs those companies quite a bit.

The Websense report found that Internet misuse in the workplace costs American corporations more than $178 billion annually in lost productivity, or more than $5,000 per employee per year.

/zimages/1/28571.gifTo read more about Web surfing at work, click here.

Meanwhile, two reports in the last month have focused the prevalence of employee "misuse" of computers on company time.

The Hudson Employment Index released a study in which 6 percent of respondents said that theyd spent more than 30 minutes each day on personal matters online, even though 74 percent knew that their companies had formal policies regarding e-mail and Web usage.

The Burstek 2005 Internet Usage study, meanwhile, found that 72 percent of employees surveyed Internet usage involved sites characterized as "employee productivity draining," and 9.5 percent involved sites that posed a security threat to the network, including spyware, file sharing and malicious code.

"It costs a lot of money for a company to have a pipe big enough to handle that extra capacity," said Lanzalotto.

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