Use company technology for this, not that

Laptop Keyboard Questions

Are you reading this at work?

Technology has blurred the lines between work and our personal lives, with cell phones that are capable of staying "always connected" and "always working." Maybe that's why there's always the additional temptation to use technology for personal entertainment, like browsing social media or using your own email or banking information while on the clock.

You're sure HR would have something to say about your use of company technology, but are there really any risks to playing Sims on your computer at lunch? Does it really matter if you pay your credit card bill online between client phone calls?

According to a recent LawInfo article on company technology, "While many employers have developed written policies regarding computer usage by employees that may give some guidance in this area, employers generally have the discretion to monitor and restrict employees' personal computer usage as they see fit. As a result, you may be subject to discipline, or even discharge, as an employee if you violate your employer's policies regarding personal computer usage."

Consult your employee manual or speak to your HR or IT department about your company's specific rules for proper use of company technology, but here are some general guidelines which might help you stay under the radar:

Internet browsing
If Internet access temporarily goes down at your company, plenty of people will joke that there's no way they can complete their work. It's true that the Internet plays a central role in many people's jobs today, but it's also true that the Internet helps pass the time between tasks at work.

And while you may rely on celebrity gossip sites and sports updates to get you through the day, assume that your employer is watching everything you access—and use your good judgment before exploring all of the Internet at your desk. "Employers generally can track employees' Internet usage, in terms of time spent online, websites visited, and engagement in other online activities," according to LawInfo. "An employer also may restrict an employee's access to the Internet or access to certain websites, or prohibit personal usage of workplace computers altogether."

Instant messaging and chatting
Many instant messengers have an "off the record" setting that prevents the program from saving any record of the conversation. But don't think that will stop employers from seeing your conversation with another co-worker about your annoying manager's meeting requests. LawInfo writes that "even if your employer permits you to use your computer for your personal matters, you should have no expectation of privacy as to the contents of your computer or your email accessed via that computer. Generally, an employer has the right to monitor your computer usage, whether it is for business or personal purposes, including your email, any websites that you frequent, chat history, and any other personal information stored on your computer." If you're accessing personal materials from a work device, there's likely a way for your employer to view those materials, too.

Email
Company emails shouldn't be used for personal use, and they certainly shouldn't be used in any job searching capacity. This may seem like basic information, but it's important to understand the logic behind monitoring your work email. LawInfo explains that employers are generally free to monitor and read employees' email messages, with no restrictions. "The theory in this situation is that emails sent using a workplace computer are the property of the employer, regardless of whether the sender or recipient of the email message intended to keep its contents private. Whether an employer is monitoring email messages to and from employees in order to ensure that employees are productive, to guarantee that employees are not disclosing confidential information, or simply to decrease the possibility of any employee misconduct or wrongdoing, employers typically are well within their rights to monitor employee email."

Social media
You've heard stories of employees getting fired over social media rants about their employer, but what about free speech? According to LawInfo, "While negative postings about your employer may be legal and permissible under the First Amendment, your employer may be able to discipline and even discharge you if you are openly critical about your employer. Many states consider most employees to be at will, which means that you can be discharged for any reason other than an illegally discriminatory reason. Another reason for discipline or discharge by your employer in this situation is if you divulge confidential information from your workplace in your web page or blog. If an employer finds that you have violated a stated workplace policy regarding confidentiality of information, you are likely to be subject to discipline or discharge."

Understandably, it may seem like you can't really use your work computer for anything other than work. And really, that should be true. Keeping your work and personal devices separate will most likely keep your work life and personal matters separate, all while preventing you from oversharing to the company, and preventing the company from losing important business information or security.