Are your employees clear about the internet usage policy at work? Recent unfair dismissal case awards £16,000

Work can be busy and it is inevitable that your employees will use some of their spare time during work to browse online but no one expects to be dismissed for looking for a birthday present or outfit for a wedding – or do they?

A woman who worked at a Scottish law firm was removed from her role after concerns were raised regarding her internet browsing habits, despite not being told that she was not permitted to use the internet during her breaks.

The employee has since been awarded £16,000 after being unfairly dismissed. She was confronted by the owner’s wife who managed the office and the exchange left the employee ‘flustered’ and ‘close to tears’. She then took time off work due to stress and anxiety and responded to a disciplinary invitation with a medical certificate.

Despite the employee providing a return to work date, her employer set a date for a disciplinary meeting during the sick leave citing allegations of inappropriate usage of the internet, quality of work, timekeeping and productivity.

The employee responded, claiming that she felt harassed and that it was likely to prolong her illness and prevent her from returning to work. Four days later, she received another letter informing her that she was dismissed.

Due to the employer’s unfair dismissal, an employment tribunal found that McMahon was in fact entitled to a basic award and further compensation due to her employer’s actions.

Most employees do feel comfortable within their office to carry some light online shopping during their working dayand it is important to lay out the rules relating to this in the employee handbook and cover it during induction so that employees are clear from the outset around what is appropriate and inappropriate use – and whether it is permitted to access the internet during working breaks.

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