As technology grows, so do our distractions. Your employees aren't immune to those either. Protecting the productivity in your office is important and can be maximized with help from an Internet policy.

With Internet policies, disciplinary actions can be outlined for employees who abuse their Internet privileges in the workplace.

What is an Internet policy?

Standard for many companies around the world, Internet policies help define appropriate Internet use in the workplace.

Many of these policies, or agreements, are contracts signed or agreed to by the employee for record. These agreements generally detail the kinds of acceptable use for the Internet, permitting or prohibiting certain websites or activities.

Other common Internet policy stipulations include:

  • Social networking and social profiles
  • Blogs or other communicative tools
  • Offensive material or prohibited websites
  • Non-workplace related web browsing

According to Karen Klein with Businessweek, employers should be concerned about two things when discussing technology: security and productivity. Internet policies are wise to be coupled with security updates for staff members.

What is included in an Internet policy?

It's important to protect employees and the company with a strong but fair Internet policy in place, and what to include in your policy depends on the type of work you do.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 87 percent of polled employers said it's normal for employees to use non-work related websites for a portion of the workday, with 57 percent of employees admitting the Internet decreased productivity.

While it's common for employers and employees to use the Internet, your business will benefit having some regulations in place, including rules regarding:

  • Personal use of work emails, instant messaging or software
  • Appropriate presence online as an employee of the company (such as prohibiting negative talk about the company)
  • Use of Internet during break hours only
  • Prohibiting racism, sexual harassment or other sensitive or discriminatory behaviors

The National Labor Relations Act grants employees the right to private activities. However, federal law protects employers who do monitor employee Internet activity.
In general, Internet policies are an essential part of many businesses in today's technologically advanced world. Following common sense guidelines to your employees' use will help draft an appropriate, but safe, Internet policy for your office.

Need help drafting your Internet policy? Turn to our Internet Policy resource as a first step toward an effective policy.

Clarifying the rights to personal posting

Just as you do, your employees have lives outside of the office. Families, friends, online networking, personal blogs-they have an array of choices when it comes to communicating outside the workplace.

Though social media might serve a great outlet, it could also potentially harm your company's reputation or stocks.

In drafting an Internet policy, giving attention to personal postings is essential. Depending on the state you live in, different regulations might already be in place. For example:

  • Protections of political views-Many states protect an employee's right to favoring a political party or being vocal about their beliefs.
  • Off-hours conduct rights-Many states protect an employee's right to activities or interests during non-work hours if they are not illegal, such as with blogging or social media.

There are, however, ways you can convey the importance of appropriate conduct outside of the office with a common sense approach to Internet use.

  • Applying company policies online-Harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated.
  • Prohibiting use of company equipment-Establish rules to outline use of company computers, e-mail or networks for personal use.
  • Protection of your company name-Remind employees that false statements or use of the companies or image or name will not be permitted.

No matter what kind of policy you decide to draft, utilize tools and resources online to help you along, starting with our Employee Handbook resource as a guide.

Many experts agree, however: Talk to your employees about Internet usage in the workplace, and make sure they understand how a fair policy will help protect not only the company, but their reputations as well.

For more information about setting up an Internet policy in your workplace, check out Smart Policies for Workplace Technologies: Email, Blogs, Cell Phones and More, available as a Google e-book, by Lisa Guerin.

When you're ready to create a fair Internet policy for your office and employees, take advantage of helpful information and resources online, including our small business legal center.