A New York administrative law judge ruled that a city worker cannot be fired for surfing the Web. The judge said surfing the web is equivalent to reading a newspaper or talking on the phone, providing a combination of communication and information that most employees use as frequently in their personal lives as for their work. He added, "For this reason, city agencies permit workers to use a telephone for personal calls, so long as this does not interfere with their overall work performance. Many agencies apply the same standard to the use of the Internet for personal purposes."
Under the facts of this case, the administrative law judge ruled a only a reprimand was appropriate. But employees that think they now have a free pass to surf the Internet on the job should not get too excited. A well-written employment policy on Internet use would still allow employers to discipline employees if necessary for excessive Internet use. Those same policies would allow the employer to discipline an employee for excessive personal phone calls or reading the newspaper on the job. Overall, it is doubtful this decision will have wide-ranging impact in the private sector and employees should be careful to follow the written policies of the employer.