We all blow a little bit of time every day surfing the web at work. Can you fire someone for that? It depends.
Almost everyone sends a personal email at some point in time from their company email, even if it's just forwarding on a funny joke. Can the company intercept and read that email? It depends.
An employee is running a side business at work on work time. Can he/she be fired for that without raising the company's Unemployment Insurance rates? It depends.
It's not uncommon for employees to bring their own laptops or internet-able handheld devices to work. Often, these devices are used for both personal and work related tasks. Should the employer ban them? Can a boss demand to examine one? Does the work info on the device belong to the employee or the employer? It depends.
The law is clear on a few basic things - company information on company computers belongs to the company. Beyond that, a company's ownership and authority claims depends on what it written in the company's Computer Use Policy - and what is communicated to the employee about that policy.
Company owners need to think about how some kinds of employee computer usage can raise the company's liability. Employers also need to be reasonable in what they allow an employee to do with company property and on company time. A well written Computer Usage Policy satisfies both sides. Clearly communicating the policy to employees up front heads off a lot of trouble later on.
The Texas State website has a wonderful online book called "Especially for Texas Employers". Don't have a Computer Use Policy for your company? In the Appendix of the State's online book, they have posted a sample Company Computer Use Policy.
You can view it here:
Need to do more than what it outlined there? You should contact an attorney who has experience with computer use policies. We know a few, and would be happy to refer you to them. Just ask via our contact page.