Computer Use Policies in Alberta
Today, we live in a world full of online distractions and with the rapid changes in technology, computer use dominates the workplace. Computers and the internet provide employees with access to a vast wealth of online resources and the ability to communicate efficiently. While we expect employees to keep on task throughout the work day, social media and personal email use lower workplace productivity. Worse yet, employees may even forward jokes or images that include racist, sexist, or pornographic ideas or concepts. To curtail inappropriate behaviour, organizations should implement computer use policies. These policies must restrict personal use and prohibit inappropriate use of the workplace computer.
At Kahane Law office in Calgary, Alberta, you essentially get three lawyers for the price of one when developing your computer use policy. Our employment lawyers, corporate lawyers and litigation lawyers work together to ensure that your policy protects the company, is in line with employment laws as well as meet the scrutiny of litigation. Usually, we draft these policies for a flat fee to make them affordable for our clients.
Why Have a Computer Use Policy?
Adopting a workplace computer use policy is essential. These policies spell out the expectation that workplace computers are primarily utilized by employees for business purposes and to curb inappropriate use. A well-drafted policy of this nature often safeguards the company from allegations ranging from a hostile work environment to copyright infringement. Such a policy may also protect against immediate dangers such as introducing computer viruses that could interfere with the security of the computer network.
What Happens If You Do Not Have A Computer Use Policy
With the increased use of computers at work, computer-related issues have also surged. Case-law across Canada have emphasized the importance of instituting computer use policies to address these issues.
In the 2009 Alberta Court of Appeal decision, Poliquin v Devon Canada Corporation (“Devon”), Mr. Poliquin, an employee of Devon Canada Corporation (“Devon Energy”) faced termination for violating the company’s computer use policy. In this case he forwarded racist, derogatory and pornographic emails to colleagues. Upholding Devon Energy’s decision to terminate Mr. Poliquin, the Court specifically warned that an employee’s misuse of the employer’s computer system may:
- detrimentally impact the work environment;
- adversely impact the employer’s reputation. This happens as emails featuring the employer’s branding may be viewed as sent on behalf of the organization;
- reduce work productivity;
- increase the employer’s risk of facing a lawsuit by employees for workplace harassment and discrimination; and lastly
- expose the computer network to viruses through downloading inappropriate material from pornographic or racist websites.
Due to the significant nature of such risks, the Court found that employers entitlement not only includes prohibiting the use of computers for “… pornographic or racist purposes, but also to monitor an employee’s use” of the employer’s computers to bolster compliance with computer use policies.
Employee’s Reasonable Expectation to Privacy
In the 2012 Supreme Court of Canada decision, R v Cole (“Cole”), Mr. Cole, a teacher, was found to expect a reasonable expectation of privacy in a laptop provided by the school board. Child pornography was found on Mr. Cole’s work laptop. The school board made this discovery during a routine check. While the Court held that a police search of the employee’s computer revealing child pornography violated his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the evidence was nevertheless admitted. In ascertaining the validity of the police search and Mr. Cole’s reasonable expectation of privacy, the Court considered if a workplace computer use policy existed.
Cole underscores the importance of ensuring that a computer use policy spells out these limits. Specifically, it supports the extent to which employees have a reasonable expectation to privacy over any data, including personal information, found on an organization’s computer network.
Tips for Employers
Both Devon and Cole reveal clear support for employers to manage and enforce reasonable workplace policies surrounding computer use. Further, they provide guidance for employers to ensure compliance with computer use policies. Specifically, employers should:
- Devise a clear and robust computer use policy that spells out permitted uses of the organization’s computer network. Further, if you do not wish for employees to have a reasonable expectation of privacy in any computer data found on the organization’s computer network, this should be specified in the computer use policy.
- Remind employees to be cognizant of the policy. Allowances exist for including a reminder implementation system. This requires employees to click on an acceptance box prior to obtaining computer access.
- Ensure that the computer use policy is disseminated to all employees. An employer needs each employee to acknowledge their acceptance of the policy in writing;
- Be reasonable in devising your policy. As many employees work long hours, often leaving before dawn and returning home late at night, you should allow some electronic communication between employees and family members to preserve workplace morale;
- Perform checks and monitoring consistently to ensure compliance with the policy;
- Hold all employees, including senior employees, accountable to the same standards; and lastly
- Continually review existing computer use policies concerning both personal and ethical use of workplace computers and systems.
Assistance with Devising Computer Use Policies
A robust computer use policy will allow your organization to employ technological resources without sacrificing employee efficiency and security. To ensure that your policy codifies employee obligations regarding electronic communication and protects your company against internal and external threats, consult an employment lawyer. To speak with a member of our Employment Law Group, please connect in any of the following ways: 1-877-225-8817 (or 403-225-8810 locally in Calgary, Alberta), or email us directly here.