Why an Internet use policy is important, and how to get your own
As a leader, rate the following. If none are a priority to your church, business, or organization, stop reading.
- Public reputation
- The mission or goals of your church, organization, or business
- Avoiding damaging lawsuits
- Your team’s productivity
If any of these are important, you need an Internet use policy for your staff to guard against needless headaches. A good policy will save you time, money, and help you protect your reputation, which is difficult to repair.
Continuing without an Internet use policy is like being on a long road trip without maintenance checks: everything could be fine, that rattle could be evidence of something more serious, or the motor may be ready to seize. Put maintenance checks and procedures in place now, and help prevent your team from being stranded on the proverbial roadside.
Some may fear that a written Internet use policy might be stifling to your organization, but a good policy shouldn’t be a Draconian Internet-and-computer lockdown. It shouldn’t be only a means to protect your backside, or a vehicle to punish workers. Such measures often do hurt creativity and productivity. Rather, a strong policy should let your staff know boundaries, protect your entire team, and encourage a high standard.
Here are a few reasons why an Internet Use Policy is so valuable…some of which protect your backside.
Liability and Negative Publicity
One rotten apple can make an otherwise clean kitchen smell very bad.
Lawsuits and publicity often go hand-in-hand, especially for churches and religious organizations. Being proactive can help you avoid court and painful headlines.
So how can inappropriate Internet use lead to a lawsuit? First, grounds for hostile work environment lawsuits include unwelcome sexual conduct that intimidates or interferes with the work of a reasonable person, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You might first think of verbal or physical actions, but images or videos on a computer, off-color cartoons, and inappropriate Facebook activity can be grounds for a complaint. One person viewing sexually charged sites could lead another employee to file a complaint.
If a complaint is taken to court, having an Internet use policy that is communicated and enforced can help protect your organization. Without a policy, the complainant can more easily show that no effective measures were in place to protect them from a hostile environment.
Second, a person who is fired for inappropriate Internet use could claim unfair dismissal, arguing that since no policy was in place they did not know their actions could lead to termination. If an employer has a policy, has monitored Internet access, and can show inappropriate Internet activity, the employee will have a difficult time with his grievance.
Guarding Your Mission and Productivity
Is your team committed to the Great Commission? Are the goals of your company important? If so, you need to know how the Internet and other electronic communications are used in your church or organization. Misuse can kill not only the productivity of the culprit, but also other members of your staff.
A 2012 survey shows 21% of people waste up to 5 hours per week with personal Internet use when they are supposed to be working. That’s not all bad. Other studies show that taking mental breaks online can actually boost productivity.
So, defining appropriate Internet use and finding a balance is valuable.
Real problems arise when staff members abuse the privilege and employers either ignore or are oblivious to the problem. That’s why monitoring Internet use is vital, according to Charles Muhl, an attorney with the National Labor Relations Board. Sexual content, discriminatory messages and cartoons, and other inappropriate online activities not only fight against your organization’s mission, they can also be disheartening and controversial, stealing initiative from otherwise productive employees.
“In sum, employers run risks from failing to monitor employees’ Internet and e-mail use,” Muhl writes. “The danger should motivate employers to implement clear and detailed policies on the appropriate use.”
Why Add Internet Accountability?
Internet Accountability can raise the bar for everyone on your team, and many churches find it to be a valuable part of their overall strategy and Internet use policy. It allows leaders to be examples to others, and it can allow small problems to surface and be addressed before they become bigger issues, says Dan Deyling, Children’s Pastor at Foothills Christian Church.
“We have Covenant Eyes on every single computer here at the church,” Deyling said. “It (Covenant Eyes) takes a sin that thrives in secret and brings it into the light. There’s no opportunity for sin to build up, and build up, and build up like pornography does as a secret sin.”
Some employees may argue that monitoring software invades their privacy, but employers have more to lose than gain from promoting secrecy online and failing to enforce it in a policy.
“Employees often mistakenly believe that their use of the Internet and e-mail at the workplace is private when, in fact, courts have found no reasonable expectation of privacy in such use and have consistently permitted employers to monitor and review employee activity,” Muhl writes. “Employers should monitor employees’ use and should state in the policy that such monitoring will occur.”
Covenant Eyes paid a staff of attorneys to provide you a sample Internet Use Policy for free. If you want it, simply send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name, title, and your phone number.
Issue 26 | November 2012 | More in this issue: Hope After Porn: Our Marriage Would Never Be the Same | ‘Tis the Season to be Busy | Covenant Eyes Buyers’ Guide for Internet Devices (Christmas 2012)