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6 Ways Your Computer Can Get You Fired

Your boss is furious about the abuse of the company's resources. You're facing disciplinary action because of an e-mail that made the rounds over your name.

You're being sacked for breaching corporate security. How could this happen?


The use of computer technology in the workplace has created a virtual minefield of potential pitfalls for employees who do not adhere to their corporation's computer usage policies.

Computer hardware, software and Internet access provided by an employer are intended for business use. The system belongs to the company and there should be no expectation of privacy on an employee's part. The company could engage in surveillance of your access and usage, including web surfing and e-mail content.

Here are some of the areas where you might be at risk and some tips to ensure that corporate security doesn't threaten your job security.

1- E-mail misuse
Sending sexual, ethnic or racially derogatory correspondence is never a good idea, especially by e-mail. You could be accused of creating a hostile work environment if you send a dirty joke or picture. Remember that you have no control once you press the Send key. You and your buddy may share the same sense of humor, but if he chooses to forward your message to other people, it can be traced back to you if the recipient takes offense.

Beware of self-incriminating e-mail. Saying you're still drunk at work, speaking negatively about your boss or passing along malicious gossip about a coworker could be grounds for disciplinary action or dismissal. E-mail messages should be professional. Avoid knee-jerk, angry reactions and inappropriate comments by rereading your message before sending it -- if you have any doubts, hold it until later.

Leaving your e-mail program signed in when you are not at your computer is asking for trouble. Someone else could send messages through your computer without your knowledge. That disgruntled employee or the colleague who's vying for the same promotion as you could take advantage of an open e-mail and you could be fired before you know it.

2- Dangerous downloading
Downloading pornography is often grounds for instant dismissal. Don't fool yourself into thinking it's okay because you only surf questionable blogs and porn sites when no one's around. With sophisticated monitoring software, your company can track every site you visit. Again, sign out of your PC when you leave your workstation to block someone else's access.

Unless it's your last day at work anyway and you want to spend all your money on a defense attorney, no one would consciously download a virus or worm. But a seemingly harmless e-mail or website could infect your computer and infiltrate the entire network. If it's proven that you ought to have known better, you could be let go.

3- Confidentiality breaches
You have an obligation to protect confidential documents and proprietary information. Avoid using your laptop to read or create classified reports in a public place like an airplane or coffee shop. You never know if the guy reading over your shoulder from across the aisle is the best buddy of your competitor.

Sending information by e-mail to the wrong person could also land you in hot water. The HR department is waiting for statistics on how you're going to downsize your department, but if you inadvertently send it to the wrong person, you could create an even bigger problem.

The security of your laptop should always be a priority. Put it between your feet at the restaurant, in the subway or in a line-up. Never leave it in plain sight in your car. If it is stolen, your care and control of company property and the proprietary information contained therein will be questioned and could impact your position with the company.

4- Abuse of time & loss of productivity
You're paid to work, not play. Playing computer games, surfing the Net to plan your vacation or downloading music for your MP3 are examples of wasting the company's time. Even checking your personal e-mail during working hours could impact your career if your employer perceives that it negatively affects your productivity.

Never use your work computer to apply for a new position in another company and do not give your work e-mail address on your rsum. If you're caught, you may find yourself in an urgent search of alternate employment.

5- Errors in judgment
Don't blog at work and never include any comments on a blog or traceable forum that could be detrimental to your career. Even if you blog on your own time from home, if you speak negatively about your employer or hint at trade secrets, you could set yourself up for dismissal. And forget about posting photos from the post-product-launch party if they show your boss drunkenly dancing on a table. He may not be amused.

Violating software licensing agreements or using pirated software could also be considered cause. Make sure any software was acquired legally. Even if the company's IT expert offers to install it, decline. If you're caught with it, you have no proof the IT guy was involved.

6- Ethical dilemmas
Plagiarizing was frowned upon in school and it's career suicide in the business world. It's easy to make a mistake when you're researching a report and you've cut and pasted portions of someone else's work into your notes. If you include it without permission or attribution, even if it is inadvertent, you'll be branded a cheater. There could be strong repercussions if copyright laws have been breached.

Never compromise security by giving a friend access to password-protected information. If you somehow still have access to your former company's internal system, don't offer it to your new boss. In the short term, they may gain a competitive advantage but when they are caught, you're the one who will take the heat, and possibly even face criminal charges.

No matter how much you detest the loudmouth in the next office who steals your ideas, keep your hands off his computer. Altering or deleting someone else's files could get you dismissed.


Blatant misuse of the company's computer system could get you fired. Even minor abuse of your computer access and usage policies can stymie your career, as you may be branded irresponsible, untrustworthy or lacking in judgment. Password protect all proprietary information and log out of your PC when you leave your office, even for a few minutes.

Learn your company's rules and err on the side of caution when it comes to computer usage, security and confidentiality.


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