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In cyberspace, someone or something always knows where you (digitally) are, what you are saying and who you are saying it to. Every person that logs on leaves a digital footprint on the Internet. We assume that everyone pretty much knows this by now, and most of us are fairly careful about what we say and do. But even though we are aware and careful, many of us out there still believe that we have the right to say what we want, when we want (even if we don’t actually say it).

This is not entirely accurate.

Nowhere is it less accurate than in the workplace. In the USA, most people might believe that their freedom of speech on the internet is protected by the First Amendment. Those people might be a little surprised to learn that in the workplace it is not. When you use your employer’s Information Technology (IT)*, all content you create, view, and disseminate is essentially the property of your employer. And, your employer has the right to search and view all content on their IT systems. This includes emails, Instant Messaging (IM) messages, posts to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, FlickR, ASmallWorld, and Myspace, among many others. It also includes blog entries, comments on another persons social media sites or blog entries, and your search engine history (what you search for in Google, Bing and Yahoo etc.)

Most people know that content on an employer’s internal and proprietary systems is discoverable, but assume that content on application’s external to the employer’s is not. When you use your employer’s IT systems to run external software such as IM, Skype, Facebook, Facebook Chat, and other such applications, your employer has the right to monitor and record whatever it is you type or upload, or download. And this doesn’t have to be just within business hours.

If you are using a company provided laptop computer, tablet computer, or Smartphone, or any other technology that is provided by your employer, they have the right to monitor and record all data on that equipment, whether inside of our outside of business hours.

So be aware of what you are writing, uploading and downloading when using employer provided technology, even at home.

There have been many cases of employees being dismissed for misuse of company provided IT systems. Surprisingly, a lot of these cases have concerned people publicly dissing their employers or co-worker on their Facebook or Twitter accounts, or in their blogs. We can expect to see a lot more of this.

In Australia employers have the right to monitor and record all data on their IT systems. It is recommended that all employees should be made fully aware of the type of monitoring being conducted. A well designed and thorough IT Usage document and ePolicy covering all aspects of IT usage including social media, can provide protection for both employers and employees. An example of what to include in an ePolicy document can be found in the ABC’s Use of Social Media Policy:

  • Do not mix the professional and the personal in ways likely to bring the ABC into disrepute.
  • Do not undermine your effectiveness at work.
  • Do not imply ABC endorsement of your personal views.
  • Do not disclose confidential information obtained through work.

Employers should make their electronic Policy (ePolicy) clear to all employees. They can provide education sessions, written copies of the ePolicy to all employees, and an information point for any questions that employees may have.