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NJ employers can't press charges if you check Facebook at work

Not too long ago we discussed how Facebook and other digital media entities relate to New Jersey employment law. That blog post went over whether or not Newark employers have the right to demand Facebook passwords from employees or job candidates. The intersection of technology and employment law was in the news again this week when a U.S. appeals court handed down a very interesting ruling.

The appeals court ruled that companies cannot press criminal charges when employees violate their computer or Internet policies by doing something like checking Facebook or shopping online during the work day. Previously, under a broad interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, some businesses have called it fraud and other crimes when employees break such policies.

It is important to note that employees may still be disciplined or even fired if they violate strict computer policies. The ruling only applies to the ability to press charges.

The decision stemmed from a lawsuit in which an employer alleged that an employee was involved in trade secret theft, mail and computer fraud and other violations of the CFAA when he took information from the company's database. A district court threw out computer fraud charges, which has now been affirmed by the appeals court.

The judge in this case noted that computers allow employees a tool to use to procrastinate, but even with no computers, employees will find ways to procrastinate. Procrastination or distraction cannot be punished further than normal on the basis that it involved a computer.

Source: Bloomberg, "Checking Facebook at Work Isn't a Crime, Appeals Court Rules," Karen Gullo, April 10, 2012

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