After last week's post on "Business for Geeks 301: All your base are belong to us", I received a note from a fellow developer whom I happen to respect where he called me to task. He asked me not to share his name, but for simplicity's sake, let's call him Dade Murphy:
DM: Hrmmm … You seem to take an awfully hard stance on what is really a Grey Area situation … (Business for Geeks 301)
[snip my response]
DM: Ah, but you see … companies blur the line as well. I've worked at companies that outright said that it was ok to use company equipment to do non-company stuff … and that it was even ok to do non-work stuff during 'work hours', as LONG as you still put in 8 hours of work. Since that was a bonus to the company, since it meant you were in that chair for longer than 8 hours 😉
[snip, more of my yammering]
DM: Plus … there is a real gray area/line/gradient … and where to draw the black line, is difficult: 'working on company work only' –> solving an office dispute by hitting imdb.com –> Hitting Amazon –> Checking personal email –> Participating in an online forum –> Answering a few questions on an open source project –> Taking a 'mental break' to play some video game –> Taking a mental break to write some non-work-code –> oing significant non-work-coding –> Giving out your office phone# as your private companies support line.
So all of this summarizes to two main points:
- some companies allow/encourage personal internet use at work;
- there is a gradient of non-work behavior, choosing where to draw the line is difficult;
In both cases, he's 100% correct and I wouldn't challenge either of those points, but there are another set of considerations in the picture. The B4G discussions here are built along the lines of "here are some ideas that I consider good", "here's something I wished I learned a few years earlier", or "here's something that can get you in trouble". Along those lines, I'd like to introduce the concept of "preponderance of the evidence" which means:
"n. the greater weight of the evidence required in a civil (non-criminal) lawsuit for the trier of fact (jury or judge without a jury) to decide in favor of one side or the other. This preponderance is based on the more convincing evidence and its probable truth or accuracy, and not on the amount of evidence."
Source: Law.com Dictionary.
So what does that mean to all of us? It's really quite simple. When we have a situation like last week, the suing company does not have to prove that there's definitively been malfeasance, they just have to convince the judge that malfeasance is likely. Scary, huh? That's why I got so much out of Dade's gradient comment above. Yes, there is a gradient. Yes, I believe he accurately described it.
But once you combine that grey area with the above definition, you realize that the farther you stray into the grey, you open yourself up to more and more risk. Few employers will punish you for hitting Amazon or occassionally checking personal email but once you do anything related to your business, you are risking it all.
And one final nugget… your (former) employer doesn't even need to win, just having legal action against you increases your business insurance, will scare away customers, and suck your time away.