Technology and productivity: for better and worse

On the one hand, technological advances have significantly increased productivity, efficiency and profit in the workplace. Clear and immediate communication has made everything happen faster. For employers, technological advances have truly been a rose. But every rose, as they say, has its thorn. Estimates about how much time and profit are being lost in Canadian workplaces as a result of employee access to the internet at work are stunning.
But it’s not just the loss of productivity that technology can bring. Those social networking sites give employees access to huge and immediate audiences for venting every complaint and criticism they have about their employer.
Employees are often under the mistaken impression that what they do on their own time from their own computer is their business. This can be a fatal error.
Depending on how broad the access to the posting is and how derogatory the comments made, posting your personal reflections about your boss’s character or management skills may lead to your termination without any pay in lieu of notice.
Sometimes employees think they can get around this danger by anonymously posting. Employers, however, can apply to a court to order an internet provider to disclose the IP address for the posting and the identity of the poster. Read your internet service agreement closely. It probably forewarns you that your personal information can be disclosed to a third party under a court order.
The new Occupational Health & Safety Act amendments from last year prohibit bullying in the workplace and threats of violence. Just because you do it from home doesn’t change anything. Posting threats of violence or engaging in bullying behaviour with respect to other employees on the internet may oblige the employer to discipline you or terminate your employment.
Employers should be proactive within the workplace by establishing a policy that prohibits access from work computers to social networking sites unless it is for work-related reasons and directing their IT department to shut down access to those websites for all but approved employees. This won’t affect what employees can do from the comfort of their own home but it may address some of the productivity concerns.
Likewise, employers should have a clear policy about accessing or communicating pornographic or sexually explicit material. Without such a policy an employer could be on shaky ground trying to terminate without a severance package.  
Employers need to know that if they become aware that an employee has, or might have, accessed child pornography, the employer has an obligation under the Child Pornography Reporting Act to immediately report their suspicions. Failure to do so can lead to a fine of up to $50,000.00 or jail for up to two years.
Of course, if an employer does discover an employee has accessed child pornography from their computer, policy or not, that is immediate grounds for termination without notice.
If you spend your work days driving around in an employer vehicle of any kind, you should assume it has a GPS in it. Although some limitations may apply in a unionized environment, elsewhere the employer has no obligation to tell you your movements are being tracked. It will not be considered an invasion of your privacy. Imagine yourself saying the following to a judge, “Yes I know I went home for a nap between 12 and 3 every day for two weeks but you shouldn’t consider that GPS evidence, Your Honour, because I didn’t know the employer had put one in the car they owned and paid for and that I am only supposed to drive for work purposes.” Does it sound convincing to you?
Or try this one, “If I had known there was a GPS in my car I never would have spent every afternoon at the local strip club.”
The chances that you will be prepared to hire a lawyer and start a lawsuit to get a severance package are nil if the GPS revealed that you were spending several hours a week at your boyfriend’s house. The one your husband hasn’t met yet.
Compared to 15 years ago, technology has impacted the workplace in a myriad of ways that we would never have foreseen. Who knows what’s coming down the road at us? Whatever it is, you can be sure it will include the good, the bad and the ugly.
As published in the Hamilton Spectator, January 9, 2011
Ed Canning
Ed Canning
P: 905.572.5809