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Around a third of companies in the US have disciplined staff for Internet misuse in the past year, with most incidents related to porn surfing.

According to a survey by software outfit Websense, 63 per cent of employers said they were aware of staff taking part in recreational surfing on company time - a seven per cent increase on last year.

Thirty-four per cent said they had disciplined an employee for inappropriate Net over the past 12 months, with a third of this action resulting in the worker being fired.

More than half the sackings involved online pornography, followed by the use of chat rooms, e-shopping and stock trading.

Around three per cent of companies had been involved in litigation from misuse of the Net.

Last week a separate survey claimed that recreational use of the Internet at work cost British industry around $500 million in lost productivity per year.

Around 4.5 million emails are fired off by Britain's workforce every day, many of them including non-work related content. "These messages could contain a legitimate message or in some cases the entire year's work of an employee who is moving to a competitor," the survey, by FAST Corporate Services, warns.

Half of workers say they receive pornographic, racist, sexist or other inappropriate email at work.

"What starts off as a little bit of Cyberslacking can turn into major company turmoil," says Richard Willmott, FAST Corporate Services chief. He cites the case of Norwich Union, where a botched email ended up costing the outfit £450,000. This sprang from an employee sending a message from a company email address (like using company headed paper), and unintentionally sending out a libellous email.

"You cannot be present in every office every hour of the day and you cannot rely on employees to exercise sound judgment 100 percent of the time," warned Willmott.

Only ten per cent of UK staff claim to never surf for recreational purposes on company time. The others say that around a third of their time spent online is not work related. ®

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