The 212 firms that participated in the survey by Personnel Today magazine and KLegal, the legal arm of KPMG, had taken disciplinary action in 358 cases for e-mail or internet related offences compared to 326 for the other three categories.
Sending pornographic e-mail emerged as one of the top three ways of getting sacked. Nearly 40% of disciplinary cases for this resulted in dismissal, only ranking behind dishonesty (almost 100%) and violence (74%).
Nearly two-thirds of e mail/internet related dismissals and half of the disciplinary cases were for accessing or distributing pornographic/sexual material. There was only one reported disciplinary case for racial harassment by use of e mail - although this did result in dismissal.
Of the firms surveyed, 20% monitor employee usage on a daily basis, compared to 11% in a similar survey conducted 18 months ago. More firms are now telling their staff that they monitor - however nearly 10% of firms still do not tell staff that they are being monitored, even though this is breaking the law. Eighteen months ago up to 20% of firms monitored their staff without telling them.
The three most commonly disciplined ‘cyber crimes’ are:
- excessive personal use of the internet or e-mail (although less than 10% of these people were subsequently dismissed);
- sending pornographic emails; and
- accessing pornographic web sites.
While nearly 40% of those sending pornographic e-mails were subsequently dismissed, only 17% of those accessing pornographic web sites were.
The survey also found that employees are nearly ten times more likely to be dismissed for sending a pornographic e-mail than they are for sending an e-mail that may damage the company’s reputation.
Whilst e-mail and internet usage are closely monitored by firms, the survey found that only 16% of Boards take upon themselves the responsibility of ensuring that data protection rules are not broken. Most commonly responsibility rests with the HR department (42% of cases).
More use could be made by companies of defensive software only 53% of firms said they had software in place to prevent staff accessing inappropriate web sites while 71% had software to block inappropriate e-mail.
Other key facts emerging from the survey are:
- 93% of firms publish guidelines on employee behaviour and nearly two thirds of these expressly include some form of e mail and internet misuse in their definitions of ‘gross misconduct’;
- 10% of companies completely ban personal e mail/internet use at work, and 29% of companies ban it during ‘contracted working hours’;
- 14% of companies have no policy on e-mail usage and 13% on internet usage; and
- 27% of respondents (92% being HR managers) did not know how often their company monitored e-mail/internet usage.
Noel O’Reilly, editor of Personnel Today, said:
"This survey shows that the internet and e-mail are now causing more disciplinary problems than anything else. Employers must respond by communicating clearly to staff what is acceptable use of the internet and what is not."