Do you send personal e-mails using your employer’s computer?

According to a piece in today’s Times newspaper, employers may find themselves having to record their employee’s personal Internet usage (including e-mail) or both parties may face a “new” stealth tax. Stealth, because it was sneaked in to the recent budget without any hullabaloo, blink and you might have missed it.

Unless the personal usage is “not significant”, in which case the tax is ignored, both employee and employer will be taxed. Obviously there is clear debate about the use of the term “not significant”, however it is unlikely to be within the bounds of reasonableness, a word clearly not in the Labour Party’s dictionary, as events surrounding Prescott’s Promiscuity, Clarke’s Convicts and Hewitt’s Heckles, all of which are now in the public domain, can confirm.

Personally, I use my employer’s e-mail facility to manage what I need to do “as a whole”. I send e-mails from my office to my personal desktop such that I can manage my time better. I don’t want to find myself reading newsletter after newsletter whilst I’m at work. I receive notification of the newsletters at work, sift through them at a content-level (i.e. scan them), then I forward the relevant ones to my home PC where I can spend a little more time reading them and surfing. Now, if Gordon Brown wants me to read the newsletters whilst I’m at work, that’s fine, but he should find some way of compensating my employer for around 6-8 hours per week. IT is a fast moving game, how else can we keep on top of it without constant learning?

And who’s going to pick up the cost of implementing a system that can accurately monitor personal vs corporate e-mail/Internet usage? Sure, there are products on the market that claim to do this, however in my experience unless they are set up correctly, they tend to get in the way of real work. Less able firms, with absent or inadequate IT direction, will struggle with this ruling, perhaps opting for a “personal blacklist” whereby overtime known “personal” addresses and domain names are blocked. I would take umbrage to this kind of mentality for a number of reasons:

  1. I use my blog to record information that I think might be useful to others…it’s also my way of ensuring I have some information “to hand”. I refer to some of the code samples and links on my blog a couple of time per day, it helps me with my day job.
  2. I communicate with a number of people (using e-mail) to organise social events (personal) and to conduct job-related business, the “personal blacklist” wouldn’t work in this situation.
  3. I send myself e-mails between my home computer and my office e-mail address that act as reminders, things to do etc. I also use shared tasks, shared calendars, etc. between my home computer and my office computer.
  4. The previously noted “newsletter” scenario.

I think it’s fair to say that those of us who find it useful to mix personal/business like this, do so because we find ourselves more productive as a result. A taxation of this kind would see my productivity take a hit, I would have to change the way I work because of a tax introduced by Government I didn’t vote for. Taxation doesn’t win votes. Taxation encourages emigration. When it’s votes that count, you can’t help but want to reduce emigration because emigration not only affects the number of potential votes, but it affects the economy too.

The recent scrapping of the Home Computing Initiative, whereby employees could purchase a PC via their employer with some for of tax relief, this is yet another blow to the promotion of IT uptake in the UK. I know of a handful of employees who would rather “ask a friend” for a little help with their office PC than go to some corporate helpdesks – more so for the “lesser done, easily forgotten” tasks in popular word processors or spreadsheets.

This is another fine example of the Government hitting on the masses, whereby we’ve seen taxation on travel (airport taxes, etc.) and massively increased fuel prices. I am surprised that there is no obvious taxation on the sending/receiving of SMS/MMS text messages as the sheer profusion of them sent every day seems to be an easy and obvious target.

What’s next Gordon, a tax on the office Biro that I use for personal business inside and outside of office hours?

With the current Government’s inability to differentiate between public and private, I refer to of course the aforementioned threesome, how can they possibly be trusted to enforce a IT tax like this?