Employees spend on average 8 hours or more a day on the job working at least 5 days a week. Is there any harm in allowing staff to use the email or the Internet on occasion?

Your employees may not be aware of the fact that the email account that they use on a daily basis is not private and that their Internet usage can be monitored.

Many of your staff may even assume that because they were assigned an email account, (with their name as part of the email address), that this makes the email account personal, even though access was issued as part of doing business on behalf of their employer.

Case in point: An employee who resigned from a company that I worked with contacted me a few weeks after leaving to ask if he could get access to his email account as he had "personal" information that he absolutely needed to retrieve from his account. This former employee could not understand why we would not allow him to have access to the personal information that he had stored on the account. After all, it was his email account. He believed that the company did not have the right to deny him access to the account, even though the account was issued as a standard part of doing business and not for personal use.

It is a privilege to use email and the Internet at work for personal reasons if you as the employer chooses to allow it since the access is being given to your employee for business reasons. Employee use of email and the Internet at work for personal reasons is not a right.

This does not mean that you as the employer shouldn't allow employee Internet and email use for personal reasons. It just means that you have the power to decide how these tools will be used as an everyday course of business.

Many of your employees would be surprised to learn from you that accessing the Internet or email for even just a few minutes a day is considered inappropriate at best and may even be viewed as stealing time and resources from you.

Employers don't always clearly communicate their expectations around email and Internet use at work. Most don't have clearly written policies, (or any policy), on email and internet usage. It's no surprise that employees aren't aware that they may be crossing the line when it comes to using email and the Internet for non-business purposes.

Although you may believe that employees should inherently understand this, many don't. Some employees may see no harm in spending a minute or two checking a website on the Internet, or emailing a friend as part of their break time.

The easy solution is to make sure that you have a simple, clearly written policy on your company's position on email and Internet use at work. You then need to make sure that your employees read and understand the policy by having your employees sign off on the policy.

If you are taking the position that employees under no circumstances should use email or the Internet at work for personal reasons, put it in writing and then communicate the policy to all staff.

If your company is more flexible with employees using company email and the Internet for personal reasons, outline your expectations about when it is ok to use email or the Internet at work and for what purpose. Put these expectations in writing and communicate your expectations to your employees.

You'll want to also include your expectations as to what types of websites employees are not permitted to access such as pornography or gambling websites and that employees should not use their business email to send spam or chain letter forwards.

Make sure that you don't file the policy away on a shelf to collect dust.

It's a management best practice to communicate key policies to employees at least once a year in order to ensure that all employees are familiar with the policy.