Some examples of cases in which federal employees have been disciplined for government internet and computer misuse, include:
1. Government Computer Excessive Misuse: One of the most common disciplinary issues that arises for federal employees is the excessive use of government computers or workplace internet for private use. There are many examples of this. For instance, disciplinary actions may be sought when a federal employee uses their government computer extensively for private use. Some federal employees have been alleged to have watched movies on government computers or prepared taxes on their government computer. Recently, there was a case where a federal employee was removed for running a private eBay business using government computers. See Bowers v. USPS (2016).
2. Excessive Social Media Usage: Another area where we have seen disciplinary actions against federal employees involves excessive (often undefined by the agency) use of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. We have seen cases where individuals have left their Facebook accounts open, even when not in use, and be held to account for being on social media for the entire day.
3. Using Government Computer Resources for Gaming: In other disciplinary cases federal employees have been disciplined for engaging in gaming on federal computers or doing so using internet in the workplace. This can cause multiple issues, such as the usage itself, but can also introduce unsafe software onto a government computer. This has happened in some cases.
4. Sexually Explicit Materials: One other area where federal employees have been disciplined involves the storage, sending or receipt of sexually explicit materials on government computers and workplace internet. This issue arises quite frequently and can result in potential removal. Bross v. DOC, Federal Circuit (2004); Barber v. Army, MSPB (2012)
Potential Defenses to Computer / Internet Misuse
There are any number of potential defenses to federal employee alleged computer misuse when discipline is proposed. Often there are unclear federal agency policies on agency computer usage or types of usage. I have attached a sample federal agency limited use policy for reference. Additionally, it could be the case that an agency permits certain amounts and types of federal employee usage. Often it is the case that a supervisor is aware of excessive computer and internet use and permits such usage.
There are several other types of legal defenses for federal employees, so it is important to consult with a federal employment lawyer should legal issues arise. We represent federal employees nationwide in issues involving Misuse of Government Resources / Internet Usage. For government computer and internet investigations, this is a good article to review should the need for legal defense arise.
In sum, when a federal employee faces a disciplinary investigation or action based on alleged government computer or internet misuse, it is very important to retain legal counsel familiar with these issues to assist you. Our law firm represents federal employees before their federal agencies, the MSPB and can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070. Please visit our Facebook page.