Familiarise yourself with online etiquette, rules and where to draw the line in invading your staff’s privacy.

Throughout the day, members of staff send and receive emails and surf the internet. Most bosses anticipate and understand that not all online activity is work-related. We all know that those personal jokes you share with colleagues and a quick check on Facebook does not constitute work, but do we know what our rights are as far as online activity is concerned? Is our privacy guaranteed?

Employer vs employee

According to Francis Cronjé, an ICT and data protection law specialist, there are no clear lines that define privacy online: “Various pieces of legislation touch on the subject,” he says. But employees and employers can’t seem to agree. “Obviously employees would feel that in terms of the Constitution and South African Common Law, they have a right to privacy. But on the other hand, employers might argue that their employees would only have a reasonable expectancy of privacy due to the risk that unregulated online activates and communications might pose to the company.”

Amos Khumalo, Director of Amos Khumalo Attorneys, who specialise in information technology law, says that while employees are entitled to online freedom, they have a duty to keep it clean. “Employees are entitled to online freedom as long as they do not do anything that is inconsistent with the limitations set out in the employer’s Information Technology Policies or Disciplinary Procedure and code; and where the amount of time taken up by such permitted online activity is not excessive,” says Khumalo.

But what are the rules?

Jenna Cuming, an attorney for Chetty Law, identifies the laws that govern the monitoring of online activity in the workplace:
According to the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act 70 of 2002 (Rica), interception and monitoring of communications is prohibited unless authorised by the Act. The Act itself sets out two circumstances that employers may rely on for the interception of employee communications:
1.Rica states that a person may intercept a communication in the course of carrying on any business, subject to meeting several internal procedural requirements including that only specific persons may carry out the interception and monitoring.
2. A communication may also be intercepted provided that one of the parties has given their consent to the interception. Thus in a workplace context this would normally mean that an employee has signed a contract that includes a clause stating the employee consents to the company’s interception and monitoring of electronic communications.

She warns that companies face the risk of violating an employee’s right to privacy where the employer has not followed the proper procedures or acquired the consent of the employee as required.

This article was written by Gugu Maduna and published on DESTINYCONNECT.COM on 24 January 2011 02:28 PM

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