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Judge Rules in Favor of Websurfing at Work 279

MirrororriM writes "According MSNBC article, a judge has ruled in favor of a worker that was repeatedly warned for surfing the internet on company time. Only a "reprimand" is a fitting punishment - not termination. From the article: 'It should be observed that the Internet has become the modern equivalent of a telephone or a daily newspaper, providing a combination of communication and information that most employees use as frequently in their personal lives as for their work.'"
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Judge Rules in Favor of Websurfing at Work

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  • by crazyjeremy ( 857410 ) * on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:33PM (#15192534) Homepage Journal
    So, they give me a laptop... I get multple T3 internet connections, pay me to work... free bagels on Fridays, free coffee every day, and they can't fire me for searching for funny pictures and adding them to []?

    Wow... cool!

  • Bookmarking this! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by William Decker ( 827429 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:33PM (#15192541)
    I think around 99% of /.'s have been warned of this. Some of us even signing "company papers" indicating immediate termination to anyone caught surfing.
    • Not valid outside NY (Score:5, Informative)

      by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@gmail.BOHRcom minus physicist> on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:37PM (#15192571) Homepage Journal

      You won't be able to use this as binding precedent against an employer unless you live in New York. The cost of bringing a wrongful termination suit to establish a corresponding precedent in your jurisdiction may be more than you can afford. Worse yet, employment laws tend to vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

      • by krlynch ( 158571 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:44PM (#15192633) Homepage
        And it's probably not a cover if you aren't a state government employee! It sounds like the judge applied definitions of "reasonable private use of public property" from the civil service rules of New York to a penalty against a civil service employee.
        • And a key provision also seems to be, "so long as this does not interfere with their overall work performance."

          IOW if you spend too much time surfing, or talking on the phone, you can still get fired.
      • by TheSpoom ( 715771 ) * <> on Monday April 24, 2006 @05:07PM (#15192841) Homepage Journal
        Plus, if you bring a suit against your employer and win, you'll inevitably be fired a week later for greatly publicized gross incompetance. They'll always find something.
      • by Tired_Blood ( 582679 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @05:30PM (#15192999)
        This will not even apply to most NY workers, either.

        NY happens to be one of those states where an employer can fire you for any reason ("Employment at will"), except for 8 very specific circumstances (Here's [] the list of exceptions).

        Given that, I guess the critical point to this case was that the employer was the Dept of Education: a public sector job.

        Albany's culture of "pay to play", indeed. :)
      • Furthermore, this was the case of a city employee. Not sure how different it would be for an employee of a private business. I haven't read the opinion though.
    • Nope, not yet.
      Besides my boss seems to have the attitue of:
      If your work gets done I'm happy && as long as I don't get heat for your actions I'm happy
      As long as both those conditions are met I'm free to do what I want. These last few months I've been working on a kids to work day project using sound energy and resonance.
  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:33PM (#15192543)
    Woo Hoo!!
  • by flogic42 ( 948616 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:34PM (#15192551) Homepage
    On the other hand, most companies also have policies against spending too much company time on personal phone calls. and on the other hand, oh damn i'm out of hands. :(
  • "I don't think I should have been docked so heavily on my review this year... after all, Judge Spooner said it was ok for me to spend my time surfing and you don't want to argue with a judge do you? Best to just give me a 5/5 there... thanks."
  • Simple Fix (Score:4, Informative)

    by MudButt ( 853616 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:36PM (#15192559)
    repeatedly warned for surfing the internet on company time

    If this was a problem, why in the world didn't they simply block outbound port 80 from the local NAT address (192.168.0.dumbass-that-won't-get-to-work) ->

    You can do this type of thing on any SOHO firewall, surely they had this ability.
    • Maybe the guy still does need Web access for work related sites?
      • I guess filtering software would be the next step. Its not like some companies don't do it to some degree already (for better or worse).
    • Re:Simple Fix (Score:4, Informative)

      by El Cubano ( 631386 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:46PM (#15192655)

      If this was a problem, why in the world didn't they simply block outbound port 80 from the local NAT address (192.168.0.dumbass-that-won't-get-to-work) ->

      Another possibility if your employee workstations run any flavor of Linux or BSD is to simply remove all the web browsers. Seriously. Unless your company uses apps that can only be access via the web (which I know is many nowadays), there is no need for most employees to have web browsers.

      Another possibility is to block all web traffic except through a proxy. Make the proxy authenticate. Use the proxy to allow intranet-only traffic for those people that don't need access to the public Internet.

      Any moderately-sized business should be able to accomplish this. Given that the guy in question was a city employee, I would say that the city government should invest in some decent IT people.

      • Another possibility if your employee workstations run any flavor of Linux or BSD is to simply remove all the web browsers. Seriously.

        Someone using Linux or BSD can't figure out how to sneak in a copy of firefox-x.xx.tar.gz and unpack it in his home directory?

      • Only really true if you have a pretty close-ended job. Anyone I know in IT uses the internet all the time for technical help. Research, the same. You can lock down people doing tech support or many other call-center type things, but if they ever need extra info, they're going to need internet to produce at maximum effectiveness.
      • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @06:54PM (#15193442) Journal
        Your suggestion to simply "remove all web browsers" is about as sensible as removing the telephone from an employee's desk or office, citing the fact that "Many of you don't really need one to get your job done."

        It could probably be done, but it creates a hostile work environment. People expect to be able to check their personal email during lunch breaks and so forth, and these things usually require web access. Furthermore, it's increasingly difficult to make a determination that "employee X never needs Internet access". What if their boss suddenly asks them to "find me some documentation on how this machine is disassembled", or maybe "get me some price quotes on a new air compressor"? Does it makes sense to limit them to making phone calls from numbers they can find in the phone book, and talking to a few salespeople to find out "the best possible price"? If they had Internet access, a few searches on a search engine could yield them much better results.

        Even your secretaries/administrative assistants (who many bosses think do nothing with the Internet besides play online games and waste time chatting) often save a company money when they realize they can use the net to get better pricing on toner or ink cartridge refills, paper, and other office supplies than what they've always gotten through their normal vendors. And if your company still uses a travel agent to book flights - shame on them. Give your employees access to the airline web sites and car rental/hotel chain sites, and let them take care of those things themselves!

        Bottom line: Giving people more tools to accomplish tasks is never a "bad" thing. The issues only come about when poor management allows employees to waste too much time. It doesn't really matter if we're talking about the Internet, trips to the water cooler, or reading books.
    • I think you meant Although a /0 mask would indeed cover everything, it just looks "wrong".
  • Great (Score:3, Funny)

    by Quaoar ( 614366 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:36PM (#15192565)
    I'll bring up this case with my boss when he confronts me about the elf porn. Whew.
  • Yay (Score:2, Funny)

    by Physician ( 861339 )
    Yes, now Big Brother can keep me from getting fired for checking out the sports scores while my patient dies.
  • Websurfing is ok, but try playing Solitaire and you're screwed [].
  • hot damn! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:40PM (#15192596)
    Masturbating in the conference room can't be far off! I'll get my job back yet, you bastards!
  • by mgabrys_sf ( 951552 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:42PM (#15192609) Journal
    Tomorrow - the PRON!

    "Uncomfortable working environment" my ass - HR - you're goin' DOWN. Um - to coin a phrase.
  • by Brix Braxton ( 676594 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:42PM (#15192614) Homepage
    Actually - the original article referred to a city/state employee (no mention of that in the quote) - that's relevent because if you've ever worked for the government - you'll know that it's not as simple to fire a person. Most of us work in an "employment at will" environment - where they don't need to establish a good reason to fire. -Mike
    • Government employees can be at-will as well; the problem is that their employer is bound by the state and US Constitutions and therefore has to provide greater protections in that manner.
    • Great, yet another reason to hold government jobs in disdain.

      Not only will we have to pay for their surfing, because a judge has practically made it a "right", we get to fund their pensions as well.

      Sorry, but government jobs that don't need access to the internet need to not have any access. Just as people make fun at work crews for lack of "working" while observed people will now make jokes about the city hall guy that just plays solitaire or surfs.

      They are working for us, they already have nearly all hol
  • by Baseball_Fan ( 959550 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:43PM (#15192627)
    Why make a policy that says "you can't read the newspaper at work" when it is easier to just block websites? It seems like those policies exist not because a company wants to penalize people for surfing the web, but because companies want to have a convenient excuse to fire people. I've had a sales job where the top salesperson was allowed to look at porn, buy food and bill the company, anything he wanted and for as long as he wanted. He landed a couple large accounts and managment was afraid of rocking the boat. A different salesperson who was at the bottom was fired for violating the company "no web surfing" policy for visiting yahoo sports to check his fantasy team (literally 5 minutes). Why couldn't they fire him for being bad at sales, why use the no web surfing policy?

    My last job with internet access came with restrictive software that blocked most websites the company didn't want employees visiting. There was no news websites, no sports, no entertainment, no shopping. The company also activly added new websites to the filter when the IT people noticed surfing that wasn't explained by a company need. That seems like the better option than telling employees "don't surf". Instead, most people brought a copy of the local newspaper to read.

    • Why couldn't they fire him for being bad at sales, why use the no web surfing policy?

      Because "bad at sales" is a subjective judgement of performance, which could require expensive litigation to defend. Also complicating this route is the fact that, if there were other sales people who were arguably "worse" than this person, but who weren't fired, it would then look bad for the employer if it went to court, especially if, say, the person fired was a minority of some sort and the person not-fired for same c

    • >Why make a policy that says "you can't read the newspaper at work" when it is easier to just block websites?

      Blocking web sites (blacklisting) is a waste of time for everyone. It doesn't work. Whitelisting makes much more sense. People ask for access to legit sites and you add it to your forced proxy. This prevents free-association browsing, but enables you to give access to those who have good reason to go to particular sites (business need). Then set up a location that people can go to and use on
  • It is also the content that matters. FTA:

    ".. after a search of Choudhri's computer files revealed he had visited several news and travel sites..

    Travel sites? on office time? hmmmn

  • Time management (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:44PM (#15192632)

    I once read a book by an anally retentive time management consultant. Yes, that was his job. He would always have his watch set 3 minutes fast to "be ahead of the world", and would always make todo lists, and would always be doing something while waiting, and all that jazz.

    The most ironic thing was that he said that he encouraged his employees to bring puzzles, books, needlepoint, or whatever they wanted to occupy their time when they were done with their work.

    Why? Well, because people will stretch a project until the deadline or miss the deadline completely. By having a carrot in front of them saying "I can goof off when I'm done with this", he was able to tell when they were done with their tasks, and assign them a new one. He got more work out of these people by encouraging them to goof off than not.

    Its just as irrational to assume that 100% of ones working time is going to be 100% productive work. Its more on the order of 10% to maybe 30% depending on the kind of work. Also, for a lot of white-collar and professional/skilled labor people, they do things and think about things outside of their work that helps them do better work.

    How many slashdotters out there have private projects or even outside of work computing interests if you work on computers for a living? Doesn't this stuff help you at your job? If your job encouraged private projects, as Google does, do you think your job would be more fulfilling and productive?

    • an anally retentive time management consultant.

      No need to be redundant. ;)
    • If your job encouraged private projects, as Google does, do you think your job would be more fulfilling and productive?

      Google doesn't encourage private projects. Google does encourage employees to spend 20% of their time on side projects. The difference seems like semantics, but is actually a big deal. Google owns the copyright and IP to every one of those side projects.

      But yes, my job is much more fulfilling because it encourages side projects. I work on WiX ( []) in my spare t
  • by DavidinAla ( 639952 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:45PM (#15192649)
    First, a judge didn't rule in FAVOR of employees being allowed to surf the web at work. He ruled that firing was too severe a penalty in this narrow case. Second, this ruling applied to a government employee in a specific situation, not to someone in a private company.

    I think the judge is nuts, but even so, the ruling only applies to a narrow class of public employees, many of whom were already notoriously slow and useless -- even before the days when web access was available.

  • Save for later... (Score:3, Informative)

    by fak3r ( 917687 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:47PM (#15192664) Homepage
    Not that I post to /. that much (!) but there's just too much info out there not to take a peek. Of course then you get sidetracked with another link, you have 20 tabs open in Firefox, and you're wondering what you were supposed to get done today (or this week) at work!

    This pecident will serve me well! ;)
  • Solitaire=internet? (Score:3, Informative)

    by danmart ( 660791 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:47PM (#15192666) Homepage Journal
    According to the article: "The ruling came after Mayor Michael Bloomberg fired a worker in the city's legislative office in Albany earlier this year after he saw the man playing a game of solitaire on his computer." What a stupid case. Since when is a game of solitaire "providing a combination of communication and information"? I can see if the guy was researching something online but he was goofing off.
    • by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @05:10PM (#15192867)
      "I can see if the guy was researching something online but he was goofing off."

      In this case, you're probably right. However, I've gotten busted for this. My boss came in, saw me playing Solitaire, and geared up to yell at me. I minimized the window to reveal my computer was rendering. "IE eats too much RAM."
      I was off the hook. Heh.

      Down the road, we were encouraged to browse the web from time to time. Almost everybody at that office had something to gain by reading up on tech news sites and so forth. Even Slashdot was expressly allowed. (Although I doubt my boss would have OK'd that if she had ever wandered into the comments section.)
  • Great...but why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by brkello ( 642429 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:48PM (#15192676)
    I think it would be fairly uncomfortable working for a company that wants to fire you. Maybe he should find a job where they allow a little more slack in their internet usage policies.
  • If you try that at a real company (i.e. not a state job) and your ass is gone. Surfing for hours on the net is not acceptable anymore than talking on the phone with your girlfriend for hours. With the logic of this ruling.. wouldn't it be ok to surf porn? Because you can talk on the phone with one of those 900 numbers. Bottom line is this... a company is paying you to do a job and thats it. Now if your job is to surf the net, then I guess you're ok :) []

  • by burtdub ( 903121 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @04:50PM (#15192691)
    Unfortunately, the only people who will read this article are those who are surfing the web at work. The people too afraid to surf the web will never hear the liberating news.
  • This ruling only covers public employees in New York state. The vast majority of private employees are employed "at will," and can therefore be fired for anything. This isn't generally applicable.
  • It seems to me that the countries that are racing ahead economically (India and China, especially) have much less in the way of workers' rights than the countries from which they're taking teh work (America, Germany, France, etc.)

    This court ruling sounds stupid (relative to my expectations that an employee should spend his time as directed while doing work), and it makes me wonder: are rulings/laws like these part of why other countries eat our lunch?
    • India and China are racing ahead because they have large, skilled workforces who are nevertheless lower class economically. Thus they are willing to work longer/harder to leverage their skills to reach the middle class.

      In other words, jobs - both skilled and unskilled - are being farmed around the world looking for the lowest common denominator. (Whether this should be controlled, to keep the US/West high while slowly bringing up the rest of the world, or whether the US should be allowed to crash and rise
  • But later, when I get back from lunch, I'm gonna have a whopper of a comment!
  • I lose way more time to SOX compliance than I lose to non-work web activities.

    I lose more time to PMO than I do to SOX compliance (there was one horrible 4 week period where I basically billed yet wasn't allowed to work because no projects were approved- yup- I couldn't even check out stuff and do things i knew needed doing because it wasn't an approved project).

    Then there are cancelled projects.

    Then there are super-rush projects that get replaced by another super-rush project without ever being installed.

  • Ok, fine (Score:5, Insightful)

    by misleb ( 129952 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @05:23PM (#15192951)
    What if you terminate the employee for not getting their work done? Does it really matter whether they are not getting it done because they are browsing the web or because they are reading a novel or talking to the guy in the next cube for 5 hours a day? It certainly sounds silly to say you fired someone just for browsing the web, but when you can show it has tangible effects on their output.. well... that is quite a different story.

    • by Infonaut ( 96956 ) <> on Monday April 24, 2006 @05:57PM (#15193152) Homepage Journal

      What if you terminate the employee for not getting their work done?

      It does seem rather obvious, doesn't it? I suppose all this business about unrestricted employee Internet access harming businesses indicates how poorly most companies are managed.

      Newspaper, book, goofing off on Slashdot, crossword puzzles, phone gossip, water cooler loitering. The bottom line ought to be: are you getting your work done, or not? Hell, plenty of people don't goof off in tangible way, but still manage to waste hours every day and avoid getting work finished. I've also encountered plenty of folks who "work" 50 hour weeks but manage to get almost nothing done.

      It seems like managing for outcomes is a helluva lot easier, too. If you're spending time as a manager trying to figure out if your employees are surfing the Web, that's time you could be spending checking your employees' actual work output.

  • ... the web's not gonna surf itself, you know.
  • it is sapping my productivity right now.

    and now!

    still doing it...
  • by Peyna ( 14792 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @05:54PM (#15193137) Homepage
    Traditionally the New York courts have been very strongly in favor of employment-at-will and very strongly opposed to any kind of intravention into the employer-employee relationship, so this is very surprising for a New York court to rule this way. If the city appeals this, I would expect it to be overturned very quickly.
  • by aplusjimages ( 939458 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @05:54PM (#15193139) Journal
    My boss just came over as I was reading this and asked what I was doing. Then I told him to shove it because he can't fire me for surfing the web. Instead he fired me for telling him to shove it. Damn it.
  • That is what matters: that they do the work they're paid to do it. If they spend their time surfing, and don't do the assigned tasks, then it's symptomatic of another problem. Looking at websurfing as a quality indicator is a sign that management doesn't know what its employees are doing.

    Funnily enough, this comes from the US, which I seem to remember prides itself on being result-oriented (i.e.: looking at how the person and the company performs, not so much on how it's done) rather than process oriented
  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @07:04PM (#15193484)
    Each and every case will most likely be different. Are you just browsing a bit around while others take their 10 minutes break, or are you do it 6 out of the 8 hours and the other two is at the coffee corner?

    The importand question is if it was interfering with his job. I have been in situation where management did not provide enough work and still asked not to surf. It was allowed to bring a book and read. So I could buy Hacker Crackdown, by Bruce Sterling but not read []
  • Surf at home.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 24, 2006 @07:14PM (#15193530)
    I'll tell ya what - when you're on my LAN, using my Computer, and my Internet connection - then I tell YOU what YOU can and can not do. If you don't like it, then use YOUR LAN, YOUR Computer, and YOUR Internet connection...

    When I came on the scene - I had a slow, saturated T1 with people complaining all the time. A couple days analysis and I discovered that all the bandwidth was going to bullshit - music, shopping, news, downloading screen savers/ringtones, etc. So I set up DansGuardian and blocked everything but what we decided to allow. Now I have a T1 line that's not saturated, and get's about 50% use with 75% peaks (so I'm looking at going to a fractional to save some $$$).

    Yep - I'm the "Company Dick", people hate me, but the boss is happy that I've cut costs and have people working in the office... Even better - people get their shit done during the day, so once they got with the program, they were able to get more work done and go home on time - so they're slowly starting to come around too... And nope, no one quit...

    I have the same policy with email - no personal use. We whitelist all the known addresses/domains that we use for business, and let the rest hit the spam filters. We monitor the spam filters daily to make sure nothing either slips by or gets caught unnecessarially, and when we discover a bizillion messages that have nothing to do with business - we blacklist that address - we don't bounce anything, just blackhole it... that problem takes care of itself after a day or so and some "Test messages"... Requests to open up those addresses are summarially ignored.

    Yep - I'm the company dick, but my email server isn't overloaded with a lot of shit, and I don't need to increase the capacity to handle a bunch of non-business crap.

    My company cell phones - no personal use. I monitor all the #'s and match against known personal numbers/known business #'s. All the rest are looked at statistically to see if there's high usage. If there is, and it's not business related - I charge the employee back.... Yep, I'm the company dick, but I saved this company hundreds of thousands of minutes last year on our cell bill.

    And yep - we DISCLOSE everything we do at the time of hire - employee is free to not accept the agreement, and we just won't hire them. If they do accept it, then I expect, require, and demand that they hold up their end of the bargain or I'll charge back just like I said I would. Once the first few chargebacks go out, people get the message pretty quickly and the shit stops.

    If you want to get personal calls at work - carry your own damn cell phone. But if that affects the time that you are to put in for this company - we'll fire your ass, so keep it short and sweet and only when you need to. None of that all day SMS/IM crap about what you plan to do after work, blah blah blah...

    I've had a couple people go to court, try to challenge it, but hey, we're employment at will, not some bullshit governmental shop so they get no where with it once we pull out the copy of the agreement they signed...

    My advice: Grow up. Be professional. When you're at work - try WORKING for a change.

    (and no, I'm not doing this from work...)
    • by Gorm the DBA ( 581373 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @07:54PM (#15193727) Journal
      Wow, your company morale must be sky high. If your company is publically traded, could you send me your stock symbol so I could short it? Studies have proven repeatedly that companies that TRUST THEIR EMPLOYEES to do what is right result in significantly larger profits over the long term.

      Yes, you may well get the occasional person that spends too much time on their connection. You can catch that using your big brother software and counsel/fire/shoot/whatever that person. Yep, you probably have that right.

      Trust me, you're still not getting 8 hours a day of work out of your people. They're using MS Word to update their resumes, or they are staring at pieces of paper on their desk looking like they are working, but in reality, they're counting minutes. Or they're at home, taking every single vacation/sick/comp time minute they are entitled to, in an effort to rebalance the work/life ratio that the US has completely screwed up. Or they're around the coffeepot/water cooler complaining about you. Probably taking 90 minute lunches too, because they're having to take care of the personal business you're not letting them take care of at their desk.

      Of course, I'm probably feeding the troll here, but I couldn't let it stand.

    • by freeweed ( 309734 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @10:17PM (#15194265)
      My advice: Grow up. Be professional.

      I agree fully.

      Remember that time you called me late one evening because something was acting up on your servers? Tough shit, I'm no longer on the clock.

      You want me to work a few minutes late to help keep a client happy? Sorry, it's 5:01 pm, and you're not paying me to work one second more than 9-5.

      You're a bit short-staffed just when I have some time off planned? Aww, too bad. This is my vacation time, and there's simply no way I'm willing to be flexible about anything involving my personal life.

      I'll tell ya what - when I'm on MY time, using MY car, or in MY house - then I tell YOU what I can and can not do. If you don't like it, then use YOUR time, YOUR car, and YOUR skillset..

      My advice: Grow up. Be professional. This cuts both ways. The employer who runs a punch clock sweatshop is just as much of an ass as the employee who thinks they can surf the Internet for 5 hours a day while at work. Oh, and you have some seriously incompetent employees, and management, if you've honestly improved working conditions with your act.

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!