Could checking social media at work soon be illegal?

Employers have tightened up rules over the use of social media in the workplace, in fear of employees spending their days glued to Facebook or Twitter and ignoring their daily work. Whilst this is commonplace, could using social media at work soon be illegal?

According to Stephanie Green and Christine Neylon O’Brien, two professors at Boston College, constantly logging onto Facebook and surfing the web on non-work related sites could be a federal offence.

The report interprets the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), investigating how you may be violating your employer’s computer policy by using social media at work. According to the CFAA, this applies to any employee who uses a workplace computer in their job.

On first glance, this law seems very out of date, particularly as it doesn’t take into account employees bringing in their own tablets and smartphones, and then accessing social media via those devices.

There are a number of UK employers who put a full ban on social media in the workplace, but for those without a ban in place, is charging or suing employees for using social media at work likely to happen?

The statute may be US law, and the report focuses solely on the United States, but if it becomes commonplace, it could, however unlikely, translate to the UK. But what would the ramifications be?

It’s likely that threatening to arrest someone for shopping online or browsing Twitter at work isn’t going to be the best way of improving staff morale.  If you want your staff to perform at their optimum level, you need a bit of give and take, creating a good working atmosphere in the process. Trying to cut down on your staff using social media at work is one thing, but making it a criminal offence is frankly absurd.

What do you think – should accessing social media in the workplace ever be a criminal offence?

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