A computer or internet usage policy is necessary for both large and small companies. Employees want to know what they can and can't do on their company computers and if they're allowed to send personal emails during their breaks. The best way to let your employees know what's allowed and what isn't is to have a company email and internet usage policy in place.
The Importance of a Computer Usage Policy
A computer and email usage policy, also known as an internet usage policy, is a document that you should ideally give to each employee upon hiring. Prospective employees should read the policy, sign it, and date it before they start work. You'll need to create a company computer, email, and internet use policy before you hire new employees. If you have a legal department, it can prepare this document for you; if not, you can work with an online provider or other professional to prepare one. Plan to update your computer usage policy annually and present it to your employees for their signatures.
How your employees will use the internet is an important decision for your company because there are many situations that will affect your business if there's no stated policy. Your written policy must take into account what type of business you have and whether internet and computer use is a significant part of the employee's job. If you have a marketing company, your employees may be actively promoting your business on all types of social media. You want to make sure your employees aren't texting, tweeting, or emailing friends and family, or downloading prohibited material, during working hours.
What's in an Internet and Email Usage Policy
An internet and email usage policy in the workplace usually states that your employees shouldn't expect anything they create on their business computers to be private, and that such data belongs to the company. Even though each state has different laws, many states allow companies to monitor employees' data, emails, downloads, and what the employees are doing on the computers. The written policy should specify what's allowed and what's prohibited, even if it appears to be common sense.
While each company's internet usage policy is different, many contain similar clauses so that employees know in advance that they:
- Will be subject to monitoring, which could occur at any time
- Cannot download pornographic, sexual, or questionable content, nor may they send such material by email or other social media
- Cannot disparage the company, supervisors, or coworkers, but must promote the company in a professional manner
- Shall encrypt certain material to protect security, as further explained by the employer or IT department
- Cannot send emails or post on social media in a way that discriminates or ridicules anyone in any manner, including using language or other content that disparages groups based on age, race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, weight, physical appearance, or other protected group
- Cannot harass, threaten, sexually harass, or send offensive, vulgar, or obscene material on company computers
- Are not allowed to use company computers for playing video or other games
- Cannot communicate company secrets—or confidential and privileged information—to anyone unless authorized to do so
- Cannot send emails to hundreds of addresses at once, which constitutes spam
- May not receive email or newsletters from private companies for personal use, personal causes, or purchases unrelated to company business
- Cannot download software, including music, without consulting the supervisor or IT department, so that spyware and viruses aren't transferred to the computer or network
- Cannot commit piracy, violate copyrights, discuss religion or politics, commit defamation, or use the internet for any unlawful purposes
- Cannot transmit chain letters, hate or incendiary mail, videos, or memes
- Will be denied access to company computers, and may be subject to disciplinary action or dismissal, if they do any of the above
Creating a Computer Usage Policy
You want to encourage your employees to use their computer for legitimate work-related purposes so they can responsibly perform company business. Mention that any use of company computers, phones, tablets, laptops, and other electronic devices that furthers the professional goals of the company is permissible, so that employees know what constitutes acceptable use. Remind employees to open attachments carefully and be aware of who is sending them. State that if employees are in doubt, they should check with you or with supervisors.
It's up to you if your employees can send an occasional email to friends or family during lunch and other breaks. If you want to allow it, list it in the policy so that employees see that they're entitled to occasionally have access to their business computers for personal use. So long as your employees don't abuse the privilege of occasional personal internet use, allowing your employees some free time on their computers can go a long way to improve morale and to create a computer usage policy that works for everyone.