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Wednesday, June 16, 1999 Published at 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK

Business: The Company File

Sacked for surfing the Net

Employers' organisations say clear guidelines for staff are needed

The Federation of Small Businesses is urging employers to clarify what rules they have about the use of office computers, after a woman caught searching for cheap holidays on the Internet lost her claim for unfair dismissal.

The BBC's Angela Garvey reports on how employers are getting wise to staff misuse of company Internet access
Some firms have introduced specialist software to try to stop their staff misusing work equipment, but the explosive use of the Internet has left room for misunderstandings and confusion over company policy.

In the first case of its kind in the UK, Lois Franxhi, a 29-year-old office manager from Winsford in Cheshire, was dismissed after her boss discovered she had been arranging her holiday during work hours.

[ image: Internet proving hard to resist]
Internet proving hard to resist
Mrs Franxhi protested that the amount of work time had been minimal because she had mainly used her lunch breaks.

She also said that in total she had spent less than two hours over four days searching for a holiday.

She claimed her boss - Stephen Jones, a director at Focus Management Consultants of Alderley Edge in Cheshire - had known what she was doing and had not objected until she told him she was pregnant.

Industrial tribunal

She took her claim for sexual discrimination and unfair dismissal to an industrial tribunal in Liverpool, but her case was rejected.

Peter Skyte of the IT Professionals Assoc: It's no different from using the telephone
The tribunal said her personal use of the computer had made her guilty of misconduct and that she had not been sacked because she was pregnant.

But it found in her favour over breach of contract, and she was awarded one month's pay in lieu of notice.

A spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses said employment tribunals did not set precedents, so another case could go the other way.

It has been estimated that staff surfing the Net for non-work purposes could be costing major companies as much as £2.5m a year.

With six-million people in the UK now having access to the Internet at work, employers' organisations believe it is high time that companies made it unambiguously clear to all staff what is and is not allowed.

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