Here’s an interesting article about how the flotsam and jetsam that accumulates on computers can be used as a reason to terminate an employee.

Your computer has several places holding files related to Internet browsing. When you view a Web page, each image on the page is saved in a deeply-hidden folder on your system. If you go back to the same page, the image is shown from your hard drive instead of retrieving it across the Internet connection, on the theory that it’s faster to view a copy stored locally. Your system remembers the URLs that you visit and it might remember logon names and passwords entered on some pages.

If you’re already paranoid, this isn’t surprising news, and it’s possible to dig down and remove these traces of personal surfing. But most people won’t go to that trouble, even if they’re spending a few minutes during the lunch hour to shop for personal needs, or killing a few minutes late at night looking at pornography before turning back to the piles of work that kept them at the office.

An employer who wants to fire an employee looks for objective evidence. It can be difficult to prove that expense receipts were falsified or that sick days were used improperly. It’s easy to look through a computer for incriminating evidence. If there are porn images, the employer has an easy excuse to fire the employee – and porn has a social stigma that makes it unlikely that the employee will protest. The employee might only have seen unwanted popup ads for porn sites, or might have looked at pictures no different than those in a tame men’s magazine, but terminated employees are unlikely to risk a legal battle over fine distinctions.

The author concludes:

“There are plenty of legitimate reasons for sacking employees because of their surfing habits and there are no excuses for viewing illegal material at work. The problem occurs when the cause and effect are reversed; there is a very real danger that Internet pornography is becoming increasingly used as a convenient nail on which to hang a pre-determined dismissal.

“The machine on your desk at work may be called a “personal computer” but, as these cases show, thinking of it as anything but your employer’s property could be just the excuse they are looking for.”

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