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Is Web-Surfing a Job Hazard?

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A judge has recommended that a New York City worker be reprimanded, but not fired, after he ignored warnings to stop surfing the Internet at work. The judge said that trolling the Web at work is equivalent to making a personal phone call, or reading a newspaper. But experts say roaming the Internet at work can still put your job at risk.


Yesterday, we told you that a judge recommended New York City reinstate an employee that it had fired for surfing the web during office hours. But before you turn back to that chat room, or your MySpace site, beware. Because experts say that abusing the Internet can still get you in trouble.

NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.


New York's Department of Education fired Toquir Choudhri, after he browsed sites like Google and He's the second city employee to lose his job over Internet use in the past year. A couple of months ago, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg fired a clerk after spotting a game of solitaire on his computer screen.

Recently though, Choudhri caught a break. An administrative law judge said he should keep his job. The judge likened surfing the Internet at work to reading the newspaper or making a personal phone call, and Choudhri's attorney, Martin Druyan, says the web browsing never affected his client's performance.

Mr. MARTIN DRUYAN (Defense Attorney for Toquir Choudhri): The key was, there was no undone work. There were no people waiting. He did all his assignments.

LANGFITT: But Nancy Flynn says workers shouldn't take too much comfort in the judge's decision, which is only advisory. Flynn runs the ePolicy Institute. She says many employers have Internet policies and can easily fire workers for violating them.

Ms. NANCY FLYNN (Founder and Executive Director, ePolicy Institute): The courts have tended to rule that even if your employer has not alerted you that Internet and e-mail activity is being monitored, any employee should be reasonably assume that when you log on, Big Brother is going to be reading over your electronic shoulder.

LANGFITT: Some companies use software to control office Internet use. Websense, a San Diego firm, helps businesses limit how much time workers spend on certain kinds of sites.

Michele Shannon is a senior director with the firm.

Ms. MICHELE SHANNON (Senior Director of Product Development, Websense, Inc.): What a lot of companies will do is they'll say, I'll allow you to go to your travel sites or your shopping sites, but what I don't want you to do is spend all day dong it.

LANGFITT: And when you've used up your time...

Ms. SHANNON: You'll get a blocked screen that says you have maximized your quota for that particular day, and then you are blocked from those particular sites.

LANGFITT: But Peter Cappelli says companies should focus more on what is working than on what isn't. Cappelli is a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

Professor PETER CAPPELLI (Professor of Business Management, University of Pennsylvania): If you really want to be effective as an organization, you shouldn't spend an awful lot of time trying to ferret out what employees are doing that's not productive, and instead, you should just be trying to measure and monitor how much, in fact, they're actually getting done.

LANGFITT: As for Choudhri, the New York Department of Ed. worker, he could still lose his job. The judge's decision wasn't binding; it was only a recommendation. The Department of Education could decide Choudhri's fate later this week.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News.

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