Employee Web use Legal Issues

Employee Web use Legal Issues

There are legal liability implications of Internet and Web access in the workplace. Such implications deal primarily with sexual harassment and hostile workplace lawsuits by employees against their employers.

Background: Internet Access in the Workplace – Is it Good or is it Bad?

It's both.

Here’s the good news. Providing employees with Web access has become an important factor in the success of many businesses and other organizations. Such access is an important marketing, communication, research, and collaboration tool.

Now, here’s the bad news. Personal surfing in the workplace is a huge and growing problem. By one count, the average employee wastes 2.09 hours online during an 8-hour workday (Salary.com, 2005). Such activity leads to serious loss of productivity and wasted bandwidth. It also leads to legal liability, the subject of this page.


Here are just a few statistics that bear on this subject:

  1. 15% of companies have been involved in legal action concerning employee Internet use (American Management Association).
  2. Approximately 20% of personal Internet use at work poses potential threats to the employer.
  3. Pornography keyword searches top all others by consuming 49% of keyword searches in the past year (Wordtracker.com, July 2010).
  4. 70% of all Internet porn traffic occurs during the 9-to-5 workday (SexTracker).
  5. Employees earning $75,000 to $100,000 annually are twice as likely to download pornography at work than those earning less than $35,000 (eMarketer.com).
  6. One in five men and one in eight women admitted using their work computers as their primary lifeline to access sexually explicit material online (MSNBC).

Cases Involving Wavecrest Products

Kraniak v. Department of Health and Family Services, Dec. No. 30860-A (WERC, 03/30/04)


Sexual Harassment Cases

Blakey v. Continental Airlines
Blakey v. Continental 164 N.J. 38; 751 A. 2d 538; 2000 N.J. LEXIS 650; 16 BNA IER CAS 809 (1993).

Scott v. Placques Unlimited, Inc.
Scott v. Placques Unlimited, Inc., 46 F. Supp. 2d 1287; 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6115; Fla. Law W Fed. D 349.

Martin et al. v. Cintas Corp.
Bernard J. Wolfson, “Courts: Three Employees File a Sexual Harassment Suit Over Internet Images,” Orange County Register, May 7, 1999.

Stella v. Slater
Marie Stella v. Rodney Slater, Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation, Civil Action No. 97-2550 United States District Court for the District of Columbia 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18292.

Canigilio v. City of Berwyn
Canigilio v. City of Berwyn, Illinois et al., No. 99 C 4475 (N.D. Ill. July 12, 2000).

Comiskey et al. v. Automotive Industry Action Group
Frederick Comiskey and Anton Juncaj v. Automotive Industry Action Group (A.ILA.G.) and Darlene Mille. No. 98-Cv71736-Dt United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division 40 F. Supp. 2d 877; 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1358.

Stuart v. GMC
Lora Stuart v. Appellant v. General Motors Corp., No. 992769 United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit 217 F.3d 621; 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 14563.

Spencer v. Commonwealth Edison Company
Dawn C. Spencer, Plaintiff v. Commonwealth Edison Company, Defendant, No. 97 C 7718 United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 261.

State of Washington v. Rosin
State of Washington v. Ronald C. Rosin. No. 41124-1-I Court of Appeals of Washington, Division One 95 Wn. App. 175; 974 P.2d 916; 1999 Wash. App LEXIS 693.


Wrongful Termination Cases

Howard v. Denton County, TX
Denton County, TX v. Donald Howard, No. 2-99-278Cv Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth 22 SW3d 113; 2000 Tex. App. LEXIS-4004.

Curran v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review
Patrick M. Curran v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, No. 2970 C.D. 1999 Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania 752 A.2d 938; 2000 LEXIS 301.


Negligent Hiring and Retention Case

Haybeck v. Prodigy
Barbara Haybeck v. Prodigy Services, 95 Civ. 9612 (SS) United States District Court, Southern District , 944 E Supp. 326; U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16832; 133 (1996).


Relevant Legislation

  • Communications Decency Act 47 U.S.C. 230 (1996)
  • Electronic Communication Privacy Act 18 U.S.C. 2510 (1986) and 2511 (1998)
  • Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 2000
  • Combating Terrorism Act of 2001
  • Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991 (Title VII)
  • Children’s Internet Protection Act
  • Unlawful Internet Gambling Act
  • Numerous State Laws

A Closing Quote

“Companies need to be alert to the problems and potential liabilities associated with cyberslacking. Developing an internet-use policy is a major step in controlling cyberslacking. If a company is accused of wrongdoing, federal sentencing guidelines establish that fines can be reduced by as much as 95 percent if the company has concrete internal programs to detect and prevent illegal acts. If these capabilities are not present, fines and penalties can be increased by up to 400 percent.” (Source: Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly; Ithaca; Oct/Nov 2001.)

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