Can I be sacked from my job for using the company internet structure for private internet use?

Use of internet at work

Currently many jobs in the United Kingdom enable staff to have access to the internet. In some employment contexts being able to visit certain sites is something which access to be denied but in other employment staff is provided with enough trust to be able to access what they choose.

Problems with use of internet at work

There are a number of problems associated with the use of internet at work; they can be broken down into the following:

  • Downloading of files causing the network to run much slower

  • Downloading of various files increasing the risk of the network being exposed to certain viruses

  • Productivity decreasing due to the continued use of the internet by staff on social network sites

  • The risk of a breach of confidentiality due to staff posting things on various social networking sites

Can I be sacked from my job due to my internet usage?

It is unlikely for an employee to be sacked for general internet usage even if it causes one of the above mentioned problems to come into play.

Most companies will have an internet usage policy which will set out how and when staff is able to use the internet and the various punishments for breaches of the policy.

Are there likely to be gross breaches of employment contracts due to internet usage?

Recently there has been a case which has come to the public attention of a school teacher using school computer and internet facilities to post comments on an online forum.

What was the issue in this case?

The member of staff at the school was a prominent member of the British National Party (BNP) and had posted comments on the online forum referring to immigrants as “savage animals” and “filth”.

What happened in this case?

An investigation into the internet usage of the particular teacher was launched which caused him to resign from his post pending the investigation.

However, it is thought that following disciplinary action the teacher is likely to be struck off from the teaching register.

What is the teaching register?

The teaching register is a register of all teachers who are able to teach in England and Wales. If a teacher is removed from the register it will mean that they will no longer be able to teach in England and Wales.

Will the teacher be punished for being a member of the BNP party?

The British National Party is a lawful body in the United Kingdom with membership of it therefore being completely legal. It could therefore be argued that it would be discrimination on grounds of belief if the teacher were to be sacked simply for being a member of the British National Party.

This case is therefore not concerned whether teachers can be members of the BNP or not.

What was the issue in this case then?

The issue in this case and the reason why the teacher may face being struck off is that it is due to the actions and behaviour of that teacher in expressing racists sentiments using school property during school time.

Were any of these sentiments ever said to any of the pupils?

The teacher has been keen to stress that none of these political thoughts or beliefs were communicated to any other members of staff or the pupils of the school. However, this was viewed to be immaterial as the concern was due to the use of the schools computer system during school time.

What can be drawn from this case?

Following this case it is clear to see that employers allow employees to have access to the internet on the grounds of trust. If that trust can be broken by the use of work computers during work time to communicate certain prejudices etc then that member of staff could be facing severe disciplinary action.

Would the teacher have been sacked if these comments were posted on the online forum outside of work?

It is a difficult issue as to whether the teacher would have been sacked if the comments were posted on the forum outside school time as it may be difficult to sack an individual simply for following and echoing the sentiments of a political party with lawful membership. However, if these thoughts and opinions could be connected back to the school where the teacher was employed then it may be more likely that he would have faced disciplinary action.