An interesting legal case surfaced recently that highlighted the fact that technology alone will not help you prove your case. On the contrary, as the outcome clearly showed, technology is only a tool. How it’s used and how you interpret the results is what counts.

The case involved an accountant working for Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) who had been repeatedly warned about his internet use during office hours. Evidence provided during an employment tribunal in Glasgow showed that the employee had allegedly made “more than 27,000 visits to non work related websites”.

Even though the report does not say over what period these sites were visited, that is a LOT of browsing. With such damning evidence, surely this was a clear-cut case for the company? On the basis of that figure alone, the employee’s dismissal should have been justified. The tribunal, however, thought otherwise.

During the process, the company’s disciplinary office presented the employee and later the tribunal with a report obtained from the IT department that revealed the employee’s excessive internet use. Unfortunately for SSE, the disciplinary officer simply presented the report without providing a proper analysis and explanation of its content.

The tribunal’s view was that presenting the report alone, without properly discussing what it meant, was not enough to justify the dismissal. The tribunal not only found in favour of the employee but also awarded him nearly £40K.

This story teaches us a number of lessons.

  1. If you use technology to gather evidence, it is not enough to present a voluminous report without proper interpretation – and don’t leave the interpretation to a non-techie. If you don’t understand the report, there is little chance that your employee or a court or tribunal will do so either.
  2. Although it is not clear in this case, always make sure that employees are aware of what they can or cannot do with the technology. You cannot assume that they should know what the company’s expectations and requirements are.
  3. If you don’t have Acceptable Use Policies in place, you need to adopt these sooner rather than later. All employees should be aware of the policies and through the HR department, should sign a copy after they have read it.
  4. Leaving policies to gather dust on a shelf will not help. The IT team and management must work hand-in-hand to ensure that ALL employees are fully aware of their responsibilities and rights. Regular updates, possibly even a quarterly email, will keep them on their toes.
  5. Internal communication is essential. If disciplinary proceedings need to be taken against an employee, everyone involved needs to know what the process involves and what is required of them. If technical matters are involved, let your IT guys do the talking or at least fully brief the person who will be giving evidence.

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