With Black Friday falling on 25 November this year, Chris Marshall, an employment lawyer at Spring Law, provides his advice to employers looking to get the most out of staff on the most popular online shopping day of the year.
A year ago on Black Friday in the UK, shoppers spent £1.1bn, up 35 per cent on 2014. Cyber Monday brought with it a better than expected £968m in sales, a similar year-on-year percentage increase.
With this US-inspired event having become increasingly firmly embedded in UK culture, retailers expect that these sales numbers are only likely to rise.
The majority of 2015 Black Friday purchases were made online, and it can be assumed that not all were made from home, but often from work.
Clearly, if employees are shopping electronically they are not working at that time, and employers can expect a reduction in productivity on Black Friday if their employees do this.
Are employees permitted to use their employers’ computers to make these purchases?
This will depend on the provisions of the company handbook which, along with employment contracts, governs most parts of their employment. Most handbooks now contain rules governing the use of the internet and communications.
Given the prevalence of internet-usage in everyday life, these have direct application for most employees. Some employers take a zero-tolerance approach to internet access, relying on clauses in their handbook along the lines of “internet resources are provided to carry out the functions of their employment and to assist them in the performance of their work.
The use of these facilities is strictly for business purposes only. Other companies take a more laissez-faire approach, allowing use of the internet and even social networking websites, such as Facebook.
No matter the approach taken, virtually all handbooks permit the employer to scrutinise and place limits upon the use of internet or social media sites, usually couching these in words such as “employees should ensure that the use of such sites does not affect work performance, productivity or otherwise. The company reserves the right to monitor the use of such sites”.
It is difficult for business owners to have a hard and fast rule on the amount of usage that affects an employee’s productivity and so a company will often apply an arbitrary length of time on what represents this.
If employees are disciplined for different amount of internet usage, this can lead to claims of discrimination for the company and to avoid that possibility, the company should employ a consistent application of this.
For the employee, it is advisable to avoid too much internet usage as it will demonstrate that they are insufficiently engaged, or if they are doing their job in line with expectations, that their role could be performed by others who have spare capacity.
In short, excess internet usage could flag to management that they are underemployed, possibly placing their position at risk.
As an employer wishing to maintain productivity on the self-styled ‘busiest shopping day of the year’, it is advisable you ensure that your company handbook contains up to date rules on internet usage.
In the run-up to Black Friday, business owners should draw their employees’ attention to this. This will have the dual effect of ensuring that they are aware of this, if subsequent disciplinary action has to be taken, but more importantly for management, it will hopefully have the effect of reducing internet usage, thereby maintaining productivity.
As an ancillary weapon, the company may also choose to introduce a policy which prohibits the delivery of personal items to the office.
Chris Marshall is an associate at Spring Law.
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