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Sacking over 'excessive' internet use held to be unfair

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A Glasgow Employment Tribunal has awarded nearly £40k to an employee who was dismissed due to ‘excessive’ use of the internet at work.

Mr Innes was an accountant working for Scottish and Southern Energy. Having had a previous warning about his internet use, he was dismissed for a “failure to perform his duties” as a result of spending a “ridiculous amount of time” surfing the internet during office hours. During the disciplinary process, it was shown that he had  made more than 27,000 visits to non work related websites. The company produced a report from its IT Department which, the employer said, was evidence of his excessive internet use. The manager who obtained the report on Mr Innes’ internet usage, stated that “he  was well aware that sitting at his desk doing nothing whilst going on the internet was wrong”.

But the tribunal judge commented that this manager had "no idea" how to properly interpret the report. He said, "He made no attempt to obtain advice from the respondent's IT department," and "His view was essentially that he was faced with this enormous report and this therefore showed an extraordinary amount of internet usage". The Tribunal also felt that "There was clearly a degree of exasperation with the claimant amongst the managers". It appears that Mr Innes had had some difficulties at work following a  bereavement.

The Tribunal ruled, unanimously, that the dismissal was unfair and awarded Mr Innes compensation of £38,608.

We would advise clients to contact us for specific advice in such situations as it is dangerous to assume that conduct categorised as gross misconduct in a policy document will always merit dismissal without a detailed evaluation of what actually took place. Internet abuse at work is rife and whilst visiting obviously inappropriate sites will be viewed more seriously and will normally justify dismissal , merely browsing “innocent” material and wasting time may not be enough to dismiss.

Paul Grindley can be contacted on (0113) 399 3424 or paulgrindley@keeblehawson.co.uk.

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