The dental industry has finally caught up with the advancements in the world of technology. Practices are running more efficiently and patients are noticing the improved customer service and care being provided. Technology is great, but on the flip side, technology is similar to a pill. While it can cure one set of ailments , it can also cause side effects. The side effect in this case is regarding employees utilizing technology for personal use.
It is increasingly frequent that dentists find their employees using the office computers, Internet access, e-mail, and other technology for personal use, along with their cell phones to carry on personal conversations, when they should be working.
As you are aware, all of the above listed actions involve compromised data, identity issues, and/or the introduction of computer viruses, spyware, and adware. If you have already experienced this, you are aware of how frustrating and time consuming it is to repair.
Here’s one example of how a confidentiality breech over the internet cost a practice a referring doctor and exposed them to litigation: An employee emailed risqué jokes to other co-workers in reference to a referring doctor to the practice. The consequences to their empoloyer were devastating. He lost a referring dentist and therefore incurred a loss in production. He also was charged with sexual harassment and the resulting litigation and settlement were costly.
This is just one example of many that emphasize how improper use of office computers can lead to actions where the employer can be held liable– even if they were not aware of what was happening. Most dentists feel they do not have the time to actively monitor employees’ Internet activities or nothing is going to happen to them; therefore, they have not taken proper safety measures. You need to ask yourself the following question, “What would it cost the practice by not safeguarded it?” and ” Can you afford NOT to make the time to have proper policies and procedures in place to monitor Internet activity?
Many employees mistakenly believe that their use of the Internet and e-mail at the workplace is private and confidential, and employers should not be permitted to review such private communication. Are you aware that courts have found no reasonable expectation of privacy in such use and the law permits employers to monitor employees’ Internet and email use, especially when the employees have consented to such monitoring.
Among the legitimate reasons for monitoring employees’ activities are:
- Maintaining the company’s professional reputation and image
- Maintaining employee productivity
- Preventing and discouraging sexual or other illegal workplace harassment
- Preventing possible defamation liability
- Preventing employee disclosure of confidential information
- Preventing employees from illegally downloading software
- Preventing exposure to viruses throughout the office computer system
As previously mentioned, it is imperative employers adopt and enforce a written policy that prohibits employees’ computer use and Internet access for personal activities. Employers should have employees read the policy and sign an acknowledgement that they agree to adhere to the policy. Call our office and we will gladly address any concerns or questions you might have.
The policy should include a statement that employees should not expect privacy with respect to any of their activities using the practice computer, and the employer reserves the right to review any files, messages, or communications sent, received, or stored on the practice’s computer systems. Furthermore, inform employees to keep passwords confidential and to adhere to HIPAA guidelines relating to confidentiality of electronically transmitted patient information.
To help decrease this problem, many practices have a “staff” computer with Internet capability that is not on the practice’s main network. The computer is located in a common area such as the lunch room and is specifically for staff to use before and after work, during breaks, or during lunch to:
- Write personal e-mails at work
- Access unsecured websites
- Sends personal text messages
- Conduct personal business