Apr 10, 2011

Small Business Q&A: Establishing an Internet Usage Policy

In this post we will look at a common question that I get regarding Internet access for employees (and how to manage it)

Q: My employees have Internet access at their desks. How do I establish rules for Internet use that will be effective?

A: We read articles about employee Internet usage all the time, and I do not know of a business owner who does not squirm at this topic a bit. Most business owners do not want to be policeman/policewomen over their staff’s Internet usage, but they also want to insure productivity levels that are in-line with company goals.

Since privacy issues can be a concern, what I have seen that is quite effective is giving new hires an Electronic Use Policy to sign upon hire. This way, each party knows what is OK and what isn’t. Often, egregious Internet usage starts small, and before anyone knows it, it has become a big problem.

Also, don’t be afraid to discuss your written policy on Internet usage. People want to know the rules, and it is important to be clear about what is acceptable, and what isn’t. Often, prohibiting any personal Internet usage is unreasonable (what if someone wants to book their vacation travel over lunch), which usually leads to resentment and/or trying to hide it. However, a common-sense approach, especially a written policy that is signed, is usually a very effective tool in managing these types of issues before they become real problems.

The other big issue that gets in the way of a good solution, like most other policies, is enforcement. Often, employees learn very quickly what rules really matter, and what do not. Typically, this is illustrated from the enforcement of the policy/policies. So, it is critical that if someone is violating the policy, the appropriate corrective action is taken. Also, as the business owner, you set the tone and example for how things are done, and if you are breaking your own policies, you may find enforcing them with others to be quite a challenge.

For samples and/or templates to use for written Electronic Use Policies, please see your favorite online provider of legal documents and forms (e.g. http://www.legalzoom.com, http://www.nupplegal.com, http://www.contractedge.com).

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