For a weeklong stretch in December, 10 employees at the Klamath County assessor's office spent more than six hours a day combined surfing the Internet.
KLAMATH FALLS — For a weeklong stretch in December, 10 employees at the Klamath County assessor's office spent more than six hours a day combined surfing the Internet.
One spent 90 minutes searching for answers to a crossword puzzle. Others logged onto websites, like recipes.com, for personal use, according to an internal investigation of former assessor Don Ringgold.
Altogether their Web browsing wasted the amount of time equivalent to three-fourths of a full-time employee — a hard fact for county leaders to stomach, considering the assessor's office was already short an employee through attrition and budget cuts have eliminated more than 45 positions countywide since last spring.
"I was quite astounded by the amount of time," said Klamath County Commissioner Cheryl Hukill. After the report detailing the Internet use was released in February, county commissioners sent all employees an email emphasizing the county's 13-page computer-use policy. They also plan to authorize more frequent checks of employees' Internet history, said Commissioner Al Switzer.
But what's acceptable these days when it comes to browsing the Internet at work?
Is a 10-second scan of Facebook.com for new messages or notifications OK? Can you check your bank account online during your break? What about watching that funny video your coworker emailed to most of the office?
Klamath Falls city employees can only use the Internet for personal use during breaks and before and after work, said city Human Resources Director Sue Kirby. To her knowledge, Kirby said, the city has had few problems with employees wasting time surfing the Internet.
"Some departments put out very explicit guidelines so other employees can keep each other accountable," she said.
Klamath County School District employees are only allowed to surf the Internet on their breaks, said district personnel director Paul Poetsch. The district's policy on computer use is fairly strict, he said, but it is rarely an issue because teachers spend little time at their computers anyway.
County employees are allowed to browse the Internet for personal use when they are off the clock.
Misuse of the Internet in the past, Switzer said, has been mostly on social networking or entertainment sites, not more serious violations of the county's policy, like looking up pornography.
"It's new technology," he said. "People don't stand around the water cooler anymore. They tinker with their computers."
County and city officials alike said they don't look into an employee's Internet history unless they have a reason to believe the employee was misusing it during work hours.
"It's not my place to be supervising other employees in other departments," said Randy Paul, the county's information technology director. "There are more valuable uses of our time."
The county blocks pornographic and gambling sites from employees' computers but not much beyond that, Paul said.
It's difficult, he said, to determine what Internet use is appropriate and what's not.
Researching guns online might seem like personal Internet use, but it can be legitimate work for law enforcement officials. Looking up recipes online doesn't seem like legitimate work for a county employee, Paul said, but it is when that employee works with nutrition in the county health department.
For most people, Facebook is entertainment, he said, but for county investigators, it's a research tool.
"There's a point where it becomes really hard to distinguish what is inappropriate," Paul said. "If a DA investigator had been working for 20 hours and wants to go online to order a pizza late at night, how do you write a policy that says he can't do that?"