A couple of years ago, I found myself doing unpaid work, giving up my Saturday night with television and pad thai to stuff envelopes and check in guests instead. I wasn’t doing volunteer work, or one of those bizarre internships where you run free errands for a billion-dollar shoe company in the hopes of climbing the corporate ladder.
I was asked to work for free because I got caught accessing Facebook on the company computer during work hours.Fair enough! Most companies make sure that staff are warned up front about this, and you don’t say it came as a shock, so suck it up!
On my day off, my boss had accessed my internet browser history and printed out the evidence of my cardinal sin. She threatened to sue me for “stealing” company time unless I worked the following week, unpaid.A little unorthodox. Most companies would have simply issued a written warning.
I obliged reluctantly and did so because I prided myself in having good work ethics …Ummm…
Many employers now have IT policies that allow them to monitor your online activities out of work hours, and employer-issued smart phones and laptops make this exercise easier.So…don’t use them! Use your own. Honestly, you really must expect that if your employer provides you with something (laptop, company credit card, company car) they will monitor your use of it, surely?
Just last month, minister Eric Abetz issued guidelines to public servants about their online activities. In a professor Umbridge-style, public servants were told not to make a comment that is “so harsh or extreme in its criticism of the government, a member of parliament from another political party, or their respective policies”, that “it raises questions about the APS employee’s capacity to work professionally, efficiently or impartially”.
What’s more, such comment “does not have to relate to the employee’s area of work” so it can extend to any comment on the infinite number of issues that the federal government looks after.Which is an infringement of your right to free expression, agreed. But what does that have to do with you breaking your employer's rules on surfing the Internet in work time?
Our laws aren’t particularly helpful when it comes to employer surveillance. In New South Wales, employers have to give prior notice of surveillance but they don’t need employees’ consent. In Victoria, employers can’t use CCTV cameras in toilets or change rooms, so at least employees know where to go if they want to gossip.
Employers should stop treating their employees like children loose on the playground, and our laws shouldn’t stop at banning CCTV cameras in toilet cubicles.
Until then, we may have to go back to writing in journals and hiding them under our mattresses.I repeat - what does that have to do with you getting caught surfing the Internet in work time?
Nothing. Nothing at all. So don’t try to conflate the two.