Fired For Using eBay At Work

from the did-they-at-least-buy-anything-good? dept

There have been a bunch of bogus stories over the years (usually placed by companies that sell internet filters) about the productivity losses of personal surfing at work. However, other studies have shown that personal surfing tends not to be a problem for most people. It helps ease the work-life balance that has all too often created a situation where "work" interrupts "life." Thus, it seems only fair for "life" to occasionally show up at "work." In fact, one study showed that people who do personal surfing at work tend to make it up either by being more productive or putting in extra work time from home. The key, really, is to look at whether or not the person is getting their job done. If they're able to get the job done, then does it really matter if they spend some excess time surfing?

Over in the UK, there's a story about nine office workers who were fired after it was discovered that they had spent up to two hours a day on eBay. That seems like quite a bit (though the "up to" part can be misleading). However, some questions aren't answered. For example, there's no indication as to whether or not it impacted their job performance. It's also not clear from the report if these workers were exclusively using eBay or just had the window open while doing other things. Right this second, I have about eight or nine browser windows open. Most are work related, but a few are not -- but if I leave the window with the latest baseball scores open all day, it doesn't mean I only was checking baseball scores all day. The employees apparently are represented by a union -- but rather than arguing the points I've mentioned here, they're actually arguing that it's (get this) the employer's fault for putting temptation in the way of these workers and not filtering out eBay. That seems ridiculous and hopefully doesn't get any support at all.
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Filed Under: internet filters, personal surfing
Companies: ebay

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  • icon
    Crosbie Fitch (profile), 21 Sep 2007 @ 9:57am

    Unions aren't necessarily any more enlightened

    Unions aren't necessarily any more technologically enlightened than employers.

    And even those using eBay aren't necessarily going to have all the good arguments up their sleeves either.

    It's all down to the blind work ethic: A worker doing nothing but their employer's business is a productive worker.

    Employees using the Internet for private e-mail, buying stuff, or anything else is evidently better replaced by someone with no needs, no family, no hobbies, no sense of humour, nothing that might distract their attention. A robot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Buzz, 21 Sep 2007 @ 10:03am


    This is where employers tend to put out a double standard. On one hand, they demand results. RESULTS! RESULTS! RESULTS! However, despite getting the job done in a timely manner, they crack down on employees if they view a casual site even for a second. I understand the desire for employers to feel secure in knowing their employees are working hard for their pay, so casual browsing definitely should be kept to an absolute minimum (none at all if the job at hand is behind or suffering). However, my favorite employers are the ones who occasionally share a YouTube video or some funny thing with employees to show they are not uptight work-only leaders.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Shohat, 21 Sep 2007 @ 10:22am

    The right thing, and here is why

    A manager feels uncomfortable with a worker that is allowed to do such things at work - handling personal business during time that he is paid by the company.
    The manager knows, that HIS manager will never approve of such a thing.
    Since there can't be a gray area, the right thing to do is certainly to fire these people, even to just not castrate the middle management, or have it noticed by the upper levels, and then both the workers and middle management have to go out the door.
    That's just reality, and for plenty of reasons, this actually benefits the company.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous, 21 Sep 2007 @ 10:29am

    Fired for not working

    They were caught doing personal stuff on company time - they were rightfully fired. If they want to surf the web, they can do it during their lunch break, cigarette breaks, or any other breaks that the company gives them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Killer_Tofu (profile), 21 Sep 2007 @ 10:30am

    The Boss & The Hours

    Lately my team was restructured here.
    And consequently I have a new boss.
    My hours are somewhat flexible by me.
    And my old boss really didn't care.
    I don't recall how many times he and I talked about work (or just chatted about anything really), and he always toted the line, "If you can get your job done from Hawaii, go ahead and move".
    Personally, I really could get it done from Hawaii, but I never brought that up, as I believe there is some value in having some office presence.
    Granted they never issued me a laptop, and I am here on this huge lug bound to driving here 5 days a week. (I would love to work 4 10 hour days instead of 5 8 hour days)
    Anyways, I can't guarantee that I put in 40 hours EVERY SINGLE week. Some weeks more, some weeks less. And then I admit, I am here and read techdirt throughout my work day from time to time.
    It does help me with small breaks. Prevents brain fry scenario. Honestly.
    The new boss lately was saying that I should be here more standard hours and that 40 hours are REQUIRED per week, period. I do not think she has noticed that I do not take hour long lunches as our company provides, but instead take half hour lunches. I can see how if she never noticed that then that could account for some "lost hours" in her mind.
    Main point is, I go get my job done. And then some. When the pressure ramps up, I generally get everything done. If it takes a 45 hour week, then I put in 45 hours. As long as my job gets done, and stuff isn't done late, I think its all good.
    I guess the new boss doesn't quite subscribe to that way of thinking.
    Am just kind of waiting for her to mention it again so that I will point out why I feel the way I feel, and then I am sure she will point out why she feels how she does, and we will probably both adjust some. We shall see.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Overcast, 21 Sep 2007 @ 10:34am

    Yeah, I have about 5/6 tabs open at any given time too. Sometimes, while I'm waiting on hold or waiting for a process to complete, I might check the news or maybe even ebay.

    A lot of times, the windows get left open, because I simply jump to a work task and forget all about it.

    I used to work for a company that would whine about me being 5 minutes late, or even reading a news article at work. You know, I really hated remoting into those systems outside of work hours and would only do it, if it was *required*.

    Now, I commonly at home, will remote in to work and get a lot of things done I can't really do during the 8-5 work week, as it will interrupt others. But after hours, I can do reboots, installs, etc - and not interrupt a person at all.

    The last place I work - well, I ended up getting tired of it, they were just too overbearing. Now, I'm glad to do some work from home, it not only makes life easier for others, but I'm never in a rush to do it and have the time to make sure it's done right too.

    In addition, the atmosphere here is a LOT more relaxed. While we will tend to joke around and chat sometimes, when it's time to work, we most definitely get stuff done.

    I guess, it's one thing if people aren't getting their job done. I mean, some may say 'hey, that's company time!!!' - but don't forget, the other work that's getting done is MY time. If that's the case for a company - there too, should be no gray area. Once the scheduled time is up, they should never be obligated to work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Reginald, 21 Sep 2007 @ 10:36am

    Stupid stats

    A friend of mine was called into his manager's office a couple years ago, chastised about his excessive Internet usage, and threatened with the loss of his job.

    Confused because he didn't surf much at all outside of lunchtime, he stuck up for himself and questioned the manager's numbers. Out came the usage logs presented by the company's IT department,which showed that my friend had spent in excess of 500 hours repeatedly visiting a handful of sites in the past month.

    My friend couldn't help but laugh as he pointed out that he only worked about a third that many hours in a month so it wasn't possible. His manager argued a bit about logs not lying before grasping that something wasn't right at which point he turned to the logs to bolster his argument.

    As the two of them turned to the site list the answer was immediately obvious. My friend almost always left his web browser running and on a web portal that refreshed the page every few minutes to update email status, news, stocks, etc., (and ads no doubt). Each refresh was counted as another access of the net and the total online time was incrementing as long as an http connection was alive.

    Of course, my friend still got chastized and told not to keep his browser open anymore. I don't think the company has improved their usage tracking yet, but I am fairly certain they examine the logs a little bit closer before they call employees in and threaten them with termination.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    RJD, 21 Sep 2007 @ 11:04am

    Policy ?

    Did the company have a policy of not using the net for personal use while at work ? If so, then terminating them is perfectly legit and called for. If there's no policy, then their union should have no problem defending them.

    Based on the unions weak argument, I suspect there was a written policy that was violated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mac, 21 Sep 2007 @ 11:56am

    400,000? No, fire a million...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Danny, 21 Sep 2007 @ 11:58am

    Blood from a rock...

    The thing is companies know full well that Average Joe can get all his work done and still have time for a little personal surfing. Instead of realizing that Joe needs to take time to mellow out before jumping back in to the mix of work the managers (putting that corporate mentality to good use) assume that those few spare minutes could be spent increasing productivity.

    Quite frankly they don't care that Joe just finished a really tough project and needs to wind down. The managers want to squeeze all the productivity out of him that they can. Laptops, PDAs, Blackberryies...etc. A sensible manager knows that these are just a way for an employee to keep in touch if needed but due to fact that almost no managers are sensible these days they expect those tools to grant them uninterupted 24/7 access to their employees' lives.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Chuck, 21 Sep 2007 @ 12:08pm

    And yet some of the biggest offenders of using company time and resources for personal use are the those in the higher managment positions. I have worked in IT for over a decade and you would not believe the amount of storage used for storing MP3's or the complaints we get if they can not get to their stock trading pages.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Killer_Tofu (profile), 21 Sep 2007 @ 12:48pm

    Re #9

    "Sir, due to the drop in the economy the board thought it would be best to fire 500,00"

    "Fire 1 million"

    "Sir .. 500 .. thou .. *gets glared at* .. yes, 1 million sir"

    Thats my favorite movie!! ^_^ Happy Friday everyone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    lmr2020, 21 Sep 2007 @ 2:56pm


    I had to sign a document when I went to work for my employer that I would not use the Internet for personal business while on the clock. I routinely do just that. If they want to fire me, they have every right, but I don't think they will. I am extremely productive in my job and I visit my music websites occasionally to keep me sane. Besides, if they don't fire all the guys in our firm who surf the porn sites daily, they probably won't bother this middle-aged music junkie... :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Eric the Grey, 21 Sep 2007 @ 3:21pm

    Sometimes they can't see the forest...

    I'm a half- to full-time student, and I work a 12-hour night shift, which involves running backups, and reports, and waiting (and waiting, and waiting) until one job finishes, so I can start another. In general, about a third of my night is spent with no real work to do, unless they find a "Project" for me to work on.

    Prior to my supervisor leaving, we had a "discussion" about my doing homework at work during my downtime. The problem is, when I was first hired, he told me that he didn't mind me surfing, so long as my work was completed on time and without mistakes. So, I'm allowed to surf the web, but not study for my degree. . .

    The new boss hasn't said anything to me directly, but he's complained int he past (he was the old supervisors boss) that we had too much downtime (he claimed 6 hours a night, which isn't far off some nights) and is overly concerned with finding us things to do.

    I'm just waiting to see what is said once they do any kind of tracking of our (myself and the other operators) web usage. Like the poster above mentioned, I keep up gmail, which refreshes all the time...

    At any rate, if the company says, no surfing, you cannot complain about being fired for it, plain and simple. However, the companies in question really need to use some common sense. Which is better? In my case, my previous supervisor understood that the brain needed some kind of activity, or the operator would fall asleep in the middle of the night.


    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2007 @ 5:41pm

    As the IT guy in a small privately owned company, my only issue is the security of our data and systems.

    That's all - but it's a big deal.

    Our people are competent enough using the computers for their work; but - in spite of constant education - they haven't a clue about email or web security issues. I don't think they are any dumber than the average person, in that regard.

    Most people are just like them - and not as sophisticated as the folks who post here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    roberto aya, 21 Sep 2007 @ 8:06pm


    Oh come on, I think it was jus an excuse to get rid of them. When I was at AMD my manager had two monitors on his desk. One was for emails and whatever hell else he did, the other was for his fulltime online streaming stocks. I think every multitasks, whether its under policy or not if they want to get rid of you they will always have out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2007 @ 11:01pm

    Whats so complicated about this? Some people are dicks. Other people arent. If your boss is a dick, you will get fired for dickish reasons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dave, 22 Sep 2007 @ 11:07am

    Thought provoking

    Ha ha! I liked the comment about dickish reasons!

    Anyway, I'm completely with Techdirt in saying that why not actually see if their work is up-to-par, and if it is, who cares?

    I'm trying to figure out a reason why companies won't do that. Maybe if Joe can clearly do as much work as Bob while spending 2 hours on Ebay, Bob will see it, be resentful, and blow him in to the Man.

    And there are control-freak managers who just love the latest toys, especially if it shows (ooo!) technically impressive charts that seem to indicate that he's doing a good managing job. It's gotta be easier to just show charts than to actually write a thorough performance review. They love them some stats!

    Actually, it's probably the first thing: alarmist articles published by the tracking software providers, and the dopey management teams following in lockstep.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ebay, 23 Sep 2007 @ 5:28am

    Fired For Using eBay At Work

    It is obvious that there is an epidemic of workers surfing the internet while they are at work.

    My idea is that companies cannot solve this problem with their present harsh measures of filtering and blocking social networking websites.

    Ingenious workers would always find ways to beat these silly remedies.

    What I propose is that companies all over the world must admit that workers have a need to surf the internet and so the obvious remedy is to grant each worker 45 minutes daily to surf the net, check their e-mails, network with others, make phone calls and do anything else they wish to do.

    This will please the workers and increase their morales as well as their productivities.

    After all, without the workers, you would not have the companies, right?

    So companies should begin by attending to the needs of workers which is that they need time while at their jobs to surf the net and indulge a little in their various online interests.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Adrian, 26 Sep 2007 @ 2:31am

    Great Point

    You said "Right this second, I have about eight or nine browser windows open. Most are work related, but a few are not -- but if I leave the window with the latest baseball scores open all day, it doesn't mean I only was checking baseball scores all day."

    You have a great point there! I also have 8 tabs in firefox opened now. 5 are work related and the rest are not! This still does not affect my work performance and I actually work better if I have something else to do to relax like play Minesweeper for 2 minutes once in a while. We need relaxation when working in front of computers, that is why I am so against cubicles.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Buzz, 2 Oct 2007 @ 10:40am


    If my boss threatens to fire me due to personal browsing, I'll just send him a bill for all the maintenance I did OFF THE CLOCK from home at random times (since I genuinely do take pride in my work and ensure it is functioning at times I am not working). Something tells me he'll consider it a fair trade.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Supa, 6 Oct 2007 @ 4:46pm

    Ebay at work

    I use a proxy to access ebay at work. Mainly used by kids to access myspace and other social networking sites. I used to check my auctions :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2007 @ 8:37pm

    Okay lets say you make 15 dollars an hour for your company and for that hour your company made 150-300 or more. Well, guess what, whether they make 150 or 300 you still only get 15 for that hour. So productivity is bull. If they make a million off of you, you still get 15 bucks. Do what you want cause by god your not a slave. No matter where you are if your not getting half the profits on what you do for the company you work for then your just not getting what you deserve.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Proxy, 17 Oct 2007 @ 10:17am


    I used a proxy like ( when I use E-Bay at work. Its not perfect, but a least my boss cant say I am been accessing, when there clearly are no logs

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Steve, 14 Jul 2009 @ 6:06am

    Jobsworths much?

    I just had to have my say ...

    I work in a call centre (just finished University) and I am currently saving to travel for a few years so it is a stepping stone for me but I still have my feelings about how the place runs.

    I only have to deal with incoming calls. We have a system that shows how many calls are queueing so we know if we are busy and we know if we have ten minutes between. I have had 4 team leaders since I started here, all with differing ethos'.

    Basically it is a simple job, it doesnt require much brain power but pays fairly well. It is mind numbingly boring and reading the same menotemous script daily to frustrated chumps can grind the gears but I put up with it.

    We were allowed to use the net (some sites are blocked) and we could read books/papers and even at times listen to ipods. This came with one catch. ONLY when you are not on a call. Everyone was happy, the atmosphere was great. I loved the job. I had a great attitude every call. When there are 30 calls waiting I take 30 calls. When I have 10 minutes between calls I read Moby Dick, whatever.

    New manager comes in for the floor. Blocks all internet access. We sit, like robots, unmotivated with depleted morale, no incentive to sell other than the fact we want a job. Every day people speak of leaving, applying for new jobs. People do leave and nothing changes. The bonus's drop, sales fall. Corrolation anyone?

    I understand every company pays its employees to work not surf but there should always be a balance. If you see someone watching youtube when they should be doing something far more important, in my case, on a call then fair enough discipline them. Otherwise udnerstand it will happen and work with it. It is a simple equation that staff who enjoy their job and who are more relaxed will produce better results.

    All the people saying ... INSTANT FIRE. Jobsworth??

    Q: Would you steal a pen from work?
    A: No
    Q: Why?
    A: Because its more than my jobsworth

    Life is for living. It helps to feel like their is a little part of your life whilst at work. I used to really enjoy my work but not I feel like an insurance robot and every morning I wake up defeated.

    I completely understand both sides but in most cases, especially averagely paid jobs, there is little need to be so rigid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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