Whose Computer Is It Anyway?

Last Updated Jun 11, 2008 3:48 AM EDT

The explosion of the Internet, and the ease of information access it provides, has become both a blessing and a curse for many employers. While it gives workers and their employers the ability to "google" helpful business resources, it can also threaten the security of a workplace computer system, result in extensive time-wasting and productivity loss and contain offensive or harassing material. In an attempt to prevent these negative consequences how far can employers go when it comes to blocking emails, tracking computer usage or blocking access to various Web sites?

Workplace surveillance regulates and affects an employer's ability to lawfully undertake computer surveillance in the workplace. It is an offence for an employer to carry out any kind of covert surveillance of an employee in the workplace, unless:

  • the employer has reasonable suspicion the employee(s) has acted unlawfully;
  • the employer has been issued with an authority from a magistrate that allows such surveillance; or
  • the employer notifies its employees in writing of the intended surveillance.
Employers are allowed to block emails sent to or by an employee and to block Internet access by an employee provided the employer is acting in accordance with its email and Internet access policy and provided that the employees are aware of and understand the policy. The regulations however do not give employers unfettered rights to access the private emails of its employees.

Employers should regularly review and update their computer usage policies as technology progresses and employees must ensure they are aware of and comply with the computer usage policy that applies in their workplace.

  • Robert Gerrish

    Robert Gerrish is a coach, author and professional speaker and the founder of Flying Solo (www.flyingsolo.com.au), the Australian online community for solo business owners.