Last year, an estimated 52% of Americans participated in Cyber Monday and spent over $2.6 billion, easily the busiest online shopping day of the year. The numbers are expected to rise even higher for Cyber Monday 2015. No doubt some of your employees (or most of your employees) will be spending part of today (or most of today) hunting for online deals as they realize the holiday shopping season has kicked off and they don’t want to be left behind.
So what should employers know about today and the next few weeks of frenetic online shopping? Here are three things to consider:
Is Today Really Different Than Any Other Day?
Before you get too worked up over today’s loss of productivity, consider whether this is actually just an average Monday. Your employees might spend a lot of time on non-work Internet activities on a typical workday anyway.
Even if you think you might want to enforce your policies and crack down on Internet usage for the sake of productivity, you might miss the mark. That’s because many employees will just spend Cyber Monday on their smartphone or tablet outside of your prying eyes, looking for deals and clicking their way to purchases without using company equipment. In fact, a reported 41% of all online shopping traffic on Cyber Monday 2014 came from mobile devices.
The best practice might just be to make sure your employees are getting their appointed work done today, just like every day, and enforcing your productivity and quality standards.
Communication Is Crucial
No matter what you decide to do, make sure your handbook and policies are clear. Whatever your rules are, they should be spelled out in plain language and distributed to all workers. It almost goes without saying, but make sure you can prove that your employees received a copy of your policies either through an electronic signature or a signed acknowledgement page safely stored in the employee file.
If you are going to completely ban the practice of online shopping using work computers, make sure your policies explicitly say that. If you want the right to be able to search the company-provided computers, smartphones, and tablets you issue to your workers, make sure you say that plain as day in your handbook. If you are going to let your workers surf the web using company equipment for personal purposes but only during breaks and lunches, make that clear. And if you give your employees the freedom to spend time online as long as they surf in moderation and get all of their work done, spell that out in your handbook.
Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
Like most human resources directives, consistent enforcement of your policies is the key to staying out of legal hot water. If you are going to drop the hammer on any of your workers who violate your policies, be prepared to show that you consistently enforce your policies. In other words, if the hammer drops for one employee, make sure you are ready to drop the hammer for any employee who breaks that rule.
Consider this scenario: you fire one of your workers today for spending too much time on Amazon.com. She files a lawsuit against you, claiming that your termination was discriminatory against her because of her gender, or her age, or the fact she took family leave last month, or the fact she filed a workers’ comp claim in July, or any number of other reasons.
One of the first actions her attorney will take will be to seek discovery on the Internet search history on all of your other employees. If it turns out that many of them also were goofing off online today but not disciplined for it, she might be able to successfully argue that you were picking on her because of her protected status. So make sure that you have a valid reason for checking up on employee Internet usage, you don’t single anyone out for inspection unless somehow justified, and you consistently enforce your disciplinary policies.