cybermonday.jpgGiven the big turnout on Black Friday, Cyber Monday is expected to be a shopping bonanza. But unlike Friday’s buying frenzy, most of you shopping today are shopping at work during work time and maybe even on a work computer.

Should you be doing this or not?

Alas, the answer isn’t that easy.

The lines between work and personal lives have blurred thanks to technological advances such as texting and e-mail, giving workers the ability to work anywhere and any time. And during a grueling recession many workers are working harder and longer. So, when do you have time to shop or do any other personal stuff? Work time of course.

A 2009 survey by the ePolicy Institute and the American Management Association found that 79 percent of employees had used e-mail to send or receive personal messages.

You can try to hide your personal use of work computers, but good luck with that.

According to ePolicy Institute’s surveys, co-sponsored by the AMA:

* 83 percent of employers have rules and policies in place restricting personal use of company equipment.
* 28 percent of employers have fired workers for e-mail misuse, and of those, 26 percent said it was for “excessive personal use.”
* Of the companies that monitor e-mail, 73 percent use technology tools to automatically monitor e-mail and 40 percent manually read and review e-mails.

The courts have found you basically have few privacy rights at work.

“The conventional wisdom has been that if the employer owns the equipment or system, they can do whatever they want,” said Ann Hodges, professor of law at the University of Richmond.

Many company handbooks say you’re not allowed to use work equipment for personal use. But let’s face reality, everybody does, including your boss.

That doesn’t mean you won’t get fired, or reprimanded for doing so. You can be fired or demoted for any reason in most states and at most employers. If your boss wants you out, she or he can use any excuse to do so. (They can not, however, fire you because of your age, gender, race or religion.)

That said, most smart managers know to expect some shopping and other personal matters handled during work time. You just don’t want to go overboard.

Here are some tips from Monster+HotJobs‘ senior editor Charles Purdy on how do cyber shop without making too many workplace waves:

· Early bird. Arrive early to check the sales and do any “pre-shopping,” then do the actual shopping on your lunch break. Let your boss know if you think that’s necessary–or even just announce to the surrounding cubes that you’re “Hitting the online sales now instead of going out to lunch. I’ll let you know if I find any good deals!” This lets coworkers know not to look askance if they walk by your cube and see that you’re looking at a store.

· Keep it personal. Use your personal email address and phone number when placing or tracking any orders online—don’t clutter your work email with coupons and other store offerings.

· When in doubt, ask. When using your work computer for any personal activities including online shopping, you should do it on your own time like at lunch or in the evening after work. As far as “getting permission” from your boss, it really depends completely on the type of place you work. Some companies don’t mind if employees shop online while they’re “on the clock”–others have policies against it.

· Make up your time. If you are paid hourly, that is, “punch a clock,” then your employer is definitely not going to want to pay you for online shopping–so clock out to shop. If you’re a salaried employee, just be sure to make up the time.

· Use your BlackBerry. If your employer frowns upon online shopping, you can try to use mobile sites on your iPhone or BlackBerry. And even if you are allowed to engage in online shopping, make sure the sites you wish to shop on come up on your work computer. Certain sites could be blocked, which could foil your Cyber Monday plans.

But again, I stress, your boss may still end up using your shopping spree against you. So think long and hard before you take out the credit card at work. If you have any doubts, just wait until you get home tonight.

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