Employers on the Electronic Prowl

March 3, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Some 28% of employers have fired workers for misusing company-owned e-mail, while 30% have let employees go for Internet misuse, a new survey has found.

A news release from the American Management Association (AMA) about its latest survey of workplace electronic security measures that was taken with The ePolicy Institutute said the employers who have carried out e-mail firings cited the following issues:

  • violation of any company policy (64%);
  • inappropriate or offensive language (62%);
  • excessive personal use (26%);
  • breach of confidentiality rules (22%); and
  • other (12%).

Meanwhile, the survey found, the Internet firings were because of:

  • viewing, downloading, or uploading inappropriate/offensive content (84%);
  • violation of any company policy (48%);
  • excessive personal use (34%); amd
  • other (9%).

Some 65% of companies use software to block connections to inappropriate Web sites – a 27% increase since 2001 when the two groups first conducted the survey, according to the news release.

Companies said they were concerned about Web-surfing employees visiting:

  • adult sites with sexual, romantic, or pornographic content (96%);
  • game sites (61%);
  • social networking sites (50%);
  • entertainment sites (40%);
  • shopping/auction sites (27%); and
  • and sports sites (21%).

In addition, 18% of companies said they use URL blocks to stop employees from visiting external blogs.

Tracking Keystrokes

Computer monitoring takes many forms, with 45% of employers tracking content, keystrokes, and time spent at the keyboard, according to the research. Another 43% store and review computer files. In addition, 12% monitor the blogosphere to see what is being written about the company, and another 10% monitor social networking sites.

“Concern over litigation and the role electronic evidence plays in lawsuits and regulatory investigations has spurred more employers to monitor online activity. Data security and employee productivity concerns also motivate employers to monitor Web and e-mail use and content,” said Nancy Flynn, executive director of The ePolicy Institute, in the news release.

While only two states, Delaware and Connecticut, require employers to notify employees of monitoring, the majority are doing a good job of alerting employees when they are being watched. Some 83% inform workers that the company is monitoring content, keystrokes, and time spent at the keyboard; 84% let employees know the company reviews computer activity; and 71% alert employees to e-mail monitoring.

Also, 6% of employers have fired employees for misuse or private use of office phones. Some 45% monitor time spent and numbers called, and another 16% record phone conversations. An additional 9% monitor employees’ voice mail messages. Most employers notify employees of phone (84%) and voicemail (73%) monitoring.

Finally, according to the news release, employers who use Assisted Global Positioning or Global Positioning Systems satellite technology are in the minority, with only 8% using GPS to track company vehicles; 3% using GPS to monitor cell phones; and fewer than 1% using GPS to monitor employee ID/Smartcards, the news release said.

The survey involved 304 U.S. employers with 27% employing 100 or fewer workers; 27% employing 101 – 500 employees; 12% employing 501 – 1,000; 12% employing 1,001 – 2,500; 10% employing 2,501-5,000; and 12% employing 5,001 or more workers.