Blocking Access to Sites at Work

Q: I just started a new job at a small technology firm. They have blocked a lot of websites to prevent employees from spending too much time on these sites. For example, I can no longer check my Facebook page at work. Is this legal? I feel like they are treating me like a child.

A: Employees may want to check social media sites while at work, however, employers can legally prevent employees from accessing certain sites. Employers can also pick and choose which sites they block.

I consulted employment attorney Valerie Samuels, a partner in the employment practice at Posternak, Blankstein and Lund LLP. Samuels explains, “It is not against the law or an invasion of privacy for employees to control, and even monitor, internet usage at work and on company-owned computers. Employers have good reasons for curtailing internet use during work hours and on company-owned computers.” Facebook browsing can derail productivity. Samuels cites recent research by Websense, Inc. Websense, Inc. calculated that the United States loses about $178 billion in employee productivity per year as a result of internet misuse at work. Concerned employers block sites to avoid  everything from downloading pornography to shopping on Amazon.

Samuels confirmed that employees generally have no right to privacy when they use company-owned computers, software and servers. Some employers may have explicit policies and some may not. However, excessive time on social media sites (or other sites unrelated to work) can be a reason for disciplinary action, including termination. Sometimes a quick check of Facebook turns into a 45 minute session of browsing Facebook posts but also checking out a site like Zappos to buy a new pair of shoes.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.