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How Do You Handle Online Shopping Among Employees Without Ending Up With Either A Revolt Or A Lawsuit?

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The holiday season is fast approaching—which means that it's time for every business owner to consider an important question: how are you going to handle employees who shop for presents on company computers or on company time? The answer may not be as easy as you think. This is what you should consider.

You can have a zero-tolerance policy.

While it may seem a little draconian, a zero-tolerance policy can be effective—but only if it's strictly enforced. That may be more inconvenient than you realize. About 50% of your employees probably plan to shop online while at work this holiday season, and that includes those in supervisory or other trusted positions. Senior-level employees are 7% more likely to shop online during work hours than entry-level staff members.

Having a zero-tolerance policy won't sit well with your staff if it's only enforced against the lower-level employees and exceptions (or excuses) are made for someone whose skills are more valuable or who has been with the company longer. That could also open you up to a lawsuit for discriminating against some employees and not others.

You also have to consider the potential cost to your business that a zero-tolerance policy could have. Do you really want to lose a senior employee who is good at his or her job over a few minutes of online shopping during Cyber Monday? Is it worth it to find and train a replacement?

You can tolerate a little activity with clear limitations.

It may be better to tolerate a little online shopping as long as you clarify the policies that employees are expected to follow. It's suggested that open communication with your employees about your expectation and allowing limited shopping privileges can foster mutual trust and respect within your company.

If you don't already have a strong policy on private internet usage at work, this is the perfect time to create one. It should include certain specifics that can help your company avoid potential legal liabilities:

  • Make it clear that work computers cannot be used for illegal purchases. Give plenty of examples, including such things as buying firearms or weaponry from out-of-state stores that are illegal in your own state.

  • Prohibit purchases from sites that are not work appropriate, including things like sexually explicit material or boudoir clothing, which could be construed as creating a hostile working environment if observed by other employees.

  • Establish a clear policy that lays the responsibility on the employee for the privacy of their personal financial information if they enter it into a work computer. For example, the company won't be held responsible if an employee uses a Paypal account on a shared computer and leaves themselves logged in and someone else takes advantage of the situation.

If you're having difficulty drafting a policy on internet shopping that will realistically work for your employees and still provide maximum protection for your company, check out and consider talking to an attorney and asking for help drafting the policies. He or she can advise you on the best practices and any specifics that need to be considered for your industry.