Ten online activities you should not do at work
The introduction of the Internet in the workplace represented a new technology and a new way of doing business, but it did not change all the rules. In general, the things you should avoid in the workplace have not changed because of the Internet.
- Visiting Web sites containing inappropriate material
The most common kinds of inappropriate sites would include those containing nudity and sexually oriented material. Others include sites that promote or depict discrimination, violence, or illegal activities.
Review the Top 10 Tips for Using the Web at Work for related advice concerning the use of the Web in the workplace.
- Making unauthorized promises in an email
In many matters, promises made in an email are just as legally binding as a promise made in a printed document. If promises or other arrangements are made by email, make sure that the message is reviewed and authorized by the appropriate part of the organization.
- Sending jokes or other humorous items on the organization’s email system
The problem with humor is some people may find it offensive or inappropriate. With email, it is very easy to send out an email to dozens or hundreds of other employees, making it very likely that at least a few will not find it funny. Any one of those employees may file a complaint that eventually becomes a disciplinary action. Also, keep in mind that the recipient of an email may forward the email to others inside and outside the organization, putting the reputation of the
organization and people within the organization at greater risk.
- Making statements concerning race, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or national origin
Comments of this nature may be seen as harassment by either the recipient or by others in the organization who may see the email. In the U.S., if a person within an organization files a formal complaint, it could lead to the involvement of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and sanctions against the organization. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides detailed information on what may constitute harassment in the workplace.
- Using the email system to support inappropriate activities
Every organization has different policies, but most have limits on personal use of the organization’s email system. Sending email to confirm a dentist appointment would likely be allowed, but things like conducting an affair or running a side business using the organization’s email system would not be allowed. You should review your organization’s acceptable use policy for further details. You can also review the Typical Acceptable Use Policies to see what such a policy will likely contain.
- Using Non-standard spelling and grammar
As much as possible, the standards of writing for an email should be the same as the standards for printed documents. Grammar and format suggestions are available on the Basic Email Style and Grammar page.
- Send big attachments to many recipients in the organizations
Sending large attachments to many recipients in the same organization may overwhelm the system.
Consider sending a message that does not need an attachment, or if an attachment is needed you can either reduce the size of the attachment or send the message during off-peak periods. Review the advice on email attachments for further hints.
- Using another person’s email account without permission
Unlike the recipient of a telephone call, the recipient of an email has few clues about the origin of an email besides an email address. If you are sending a legitimate message, use an appropriate email account. Otherwise, you are likely breaking one or more of the organization’s email usage policies.
- Sending non-work related messages that, if released to the public, may hurt the organization
While some activities such as harassment are likely to be clearly prohibited by organizational policy, there may be many other activities that are allowed, but potentially damaging. If you are in any doubt about a message, ask yourself whether the message could be reprinted on the front page of the New York Times without causing harm to the reputation of the organization.
- Tolerating illegal or inappropriate Internet activities
If you are aware of illegal or inappropriate activities that other that are conducted by others in the organization, you should take steps to stop the activity. Those steps range from confronting the person responsible for the activity to filing a formal complaint with the appropriate part of the organization.
Notes on Sexual Harassment
While the legal definition of sexual harassment in the U.S. is constantly changing,
the kind of harassment that is most likely to occur using the Internet is that which leads to a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment is one that unreasonably interferes with an individual’s job performance because of sexually oriented words or conduct, whether or not the harassment is linked to job-related duties, to pay, or to benefits.
Email Examples: Foul or obscene language, propositions, sexual innuendo, humor related to gender-related traits, discussing sexual activities, comments about physical attributes, discussions concerning actual or rumored sexual activity, or sending out links or other contact information for sexually oriented material.
Web Examples: Display of sexually oriented photos or other graphics, displays of sites that depict nudity.