SHRM Online and the Washington Post have reported that Christopher P. Hasson, a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant, used his work computer on the job to study the manifestos and paths of mass shooters as he planned attacks on politicians and journalists. The Coast Guard found suspicious computer activity by Hasson, leading the agency’s investigation last fall, a service spokesman said. “I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth,” one of his letters reportedly stated. Hasson’s lawyer said, “It’s not a crime to think negative thoughts. It’s not a crime to think about doomsday scenarios.” However, prosecutors called him a “domestic terrorist.”
Firing a person for visiting violent websites on company time should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, considering the state where the worker is employed, how risk-averse the company is and whether workplace policies have been violated. In addition, the speed as which a “post” on social media can develop into a full blown crisis can mean doing nothing may not be a viable option. Remember, the National Labor Relations Act protects employees who post grievances among themselves about the terms and conditions of work.
HR Magazine reports that monitoring of employees use of work related computer equipment and resources is common today from keyboard use patters, websites employees visit—ad block ones that aren’t related to work—or check employee’s work emails to make sure emails do not contain inappropriate or proprietary material.
SHRM Online reminds us about privacy issues and that emails sent and received through the company’s own server can be reviewed but that if the company accesses an employee’s personal email account through a password that’s stored in a work-issued device can lead to trouble. Invasion laws vary from state to state but generally provide that an employer can’t intentionally intrude on the private affairs of an employee if the intrusion would be “highly offensive to a reasonable person.”