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Employees & Ethics With Computers

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Employees might expect to use workplace computer resources just like at home, but doing so could put their jobs or their company at risk. Inappropriate use of computers and computer systems at work could jeopardize the security of company data, prevent the conduct of business or even cause colleagues to issue claims of harassment. Workplace standards for the ethical use of computers and computer systems are typically established to prevent these situations.

Personal Internet Usage

Getting Internet access at work is not a free ticket to go surfing. Employees using company networks to shop, perform banking transactions, or access private emails and social media sites can put a strain on connectivity for the entire organization. If Internet access is slowed down by employees misusing the service for personal issues, business use could be hindered or prevented.


Email is a valuable communication tool for exchanging information in the workplace, but improper use of email systems could cost the company in data or business losses. Sensitive data such as trade secrets should not be transmitted by email unless the data is encrypted and the recipient email address is known and authorized. Even when the data is not considered sensitive, email content should always be professional and accurate. Writing a note using company email is like using company letterhead, although the format is less formal – the writer is acting on behalf of the company.


Inappropriate jokes, images and videos that can be considered discriminatory or sexually suggestive should never be accessed, viewed or shared on workplace computers, via company emails or using the company’s computer network. Employees who receive, intercept or accidentally view this type of data might find it offensive and can issue harassment claims in litigation brought against the company and against the employee originally accessing or sharing it.


Log in information, such as user names and passwords, is created based on the data access needs of each employee, and should never be shared – not even with close colleagues. Since not every employee has the same data needs, access rights vary. If an employee in human resources shares log in information with a friend in sales, she can unwittingly allow her friend to access employment records and other information that has been secured to remain private.

Policies and Training

The ethical use of workplace computers and systems might exist in both information systems security policies and ethics policies issued by human resources or legal departments. Employee training programs are typically developed to cover both. Training approaches might involve classes or web-based training modules, and are provided during new employee orientation and whenever policies are updated, or when the company recognizes a need to remind employees of their legal and ethical obligations.


A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.

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Shannon Fagan/Stone/GettyImages