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Britain's bosses are getting tougher with workers who disobey Internet and email use and abuse policies.
Almost half (45 per cent) of employers in a study by IRS Employment Review said they had punished workers for such reasons in the last year.

Less than five per cent dealt with more than six cases, but one UK employer had punished 10 workers for Internet and email misuse.

Of the 90 per cent of respondents who answered policy questions in the survey, all cited "accessing pornography" on the Internet as forbidden, with almost all (96 per cent) also citing the sending of obscene emails as proscribed behaviour.

Other forbidden activities include: emails that denigrate colleagues (63 per cent), Internet gambling (63 per cent), using Web-based email (45 per cent), Internet shopping (31 per cent) and sending non-work related emails (14 per cent).

Two thirds (66 per cent) of the organisations quizzed offer access to email facilities to all employees but wider Internet access is more tightly controlled. Just over half (57 per cent) of the organisations polled give Net access to all employees, but 24 per cent limit it to office-based employees and just under five per cent restrict Internet access to managers alone. Approximately, two-thirds of the survey's respondents operate an intranet.

Employers need policies in place to manage the risks involved to their reputations and productivity, and to protect themselves against the possible legal consequences of misuse, according to IRS Employment Review.

Most organisations (90 per cent) surveyed have formal policies setting the boundaries of acceptable use, but compliance with other aspects of good practice - including training and the labelling of non-work related emails - is less rigorous. IRS Employment Review favours wider use of censorware technology at work.

Mark Crail, IRS Employment Review managing editor, said: "Employers are increasingly concerned at the many different ways people can abuse work access to email and the Internet. But our research shows that they may be concentrating on the wrong issues. Companies can block access to inappropriate websites using sophisticated screening software, but many try to address this issue through employment policies instead."

According to Crail, employers should insist that staff should use the same level of formality in external emails as they would use in a letter.

"One lesson we should all learn from the Hutton inquiry is that any quick message dashed off in an email may well be used at a later date in a rather more public forum," he said.

The survey, conducted in July 2003, is based on responses from 63 private and public sector employers, with a workforce of 97,275 across the economy. ®

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