5 Ways to Enforce Your Acceptable Use Policy (AUP)

Paper document that says "Internet Usage Policy"

Improper use of technology by users puts your organization at risk of cybersecurity threats and causes undesirable distractions. An acceptable use policy (AUP) such as an internet usage policy or data handling policy is an excellent tool for providing users with clear expectations of how they are expected to use technology safely and appropriately in the organization, but if they are not properly enforced your expectations will be forgotten or outright ignored. 

When properly enforced, an AUP provides an added layer of security that will help keep your organization and users safe. Whether your users are students, patrons, or employees, these 5 tips will provide the basis you need to enforce the acceptable use of technology in your organization. 

Free Sample Template:
Employee Internet Usage Policy

Download this FREE acceptable use policy, customize it,
and distribute it to your employees to set a precedent for the acceptable use of the internet in the workplace.

Why Do Companies Implement Email and Internet Use Policies?

Policies that address the acceptable use of technology in the workplace are designed to communicate how work devices are intended to be used. Company policies on technology usage have a number of intentions, including:

  • Network Security: Unmanaged internet and email use can cause company computers to become infected with malicious software. The internet also has several methods for transmitting data, many of which may not be secure enough for the sensitivity level of the data that will be shared. AUPs outline the cybersecurity best practices that employees can take to protect company devices and data.
  • Employee Productivity: In the workplace employees are expected to use the internet to perform work tasks, but sometimes employees visit distracting websites that take them off-task. Internet usage policies communicate the employer’s expectations when employees are using work devices.
  • Safe Workplace: AUPs may also address the social expectations that a company has of its employees when using company equipment, such as what is and is not appropriate to send to coworkers.

1) Ensure Your Policies Are Understandable

computer keyboard with a small white caution pylon on it
To enforce an internet usage policy on company equipment, your employees need to understand what is being asked of them. Photo by Fernando Arcos from Pexels

To effectively enforce your internet use policies, you first need to ensure that your users understand what is being asked of them. The policies need to be written with your audience in mind – the word choice for an internet acceptable use policy for employees is going to be conveyed far differently than a policy for young students or the general public.

How To Make Policies Understandable:

  • Keep the policy coherent with accurate terminology and language that is suitable for your industry, audience, and the technologies used.
  • Ensure you include relevant expectations for the technologies that are covered by your policy (mobile devices, hardware/peripherals, software, internet use, etc)
  • Test the knowledge of your employees after they’ve read the policy to ensure they have truly read and understood the policy rather than simply signing it blindly.
  • Use text formatting and organization to your advantage. Break large blocks of text into smaller sections, use headers to separate key sections, and use typefaces that are easy to read. This will help greatly when employees need to refer back to the policy to remind themselves of specific stipulations.

An internet usage policy is intended to set clear internet usage expectations for every user in your network. By focusing on the communication aspect of policy development you can work to create a workable AUP that clearly outlines how technology will be used in your organization.

2) Communicate Your Internet Usage Policy

man using the internet and typing on a laptop
Having policies easily accessible on shared networks makes it easy for employees to refresh their knowledge on how they are expected to use company equipment. Photo by Burst from Pexels

Acceptable use policies are not intended to be a ‘set it and forget it’ measure – they’ll simply be forgotten or ignored that way. If you want your AUPs to be truly successful, you need to keep the content and intention of your policies fresh in the minds of your employees by making policy engagement a normal practice in your organization. 

How to Make Company Policies Accessible:

  • Discuss policies early and often by including policy awareness as a part of your onboarding routine.
  • Have up-to-date versions of your AUPs in easily accessible locations such as the company intranet and the employee handbook.
  • Place hard copies of your AUPs in employee common areas.
  • Ensure that employees have truly read and understood your AUP before they sign it. 
  • Designate a member of staff to review policies with your employees on an annual basis; they can recommend changes based on any feedback collected. By keeping the content fresh in the minds of your employees you will ensure they do not accidentally fall out of expectations. 
  • Provide occasional policy reminders within existing documents such as emails and information packets.

The sensitivity of the data that your organization handles and the related regulations that apply to it will heavily influence your policy awareness planning. Is your AUP a legally binding document intended to protect personal health information or is it a general policy in your employee handbook?

3) Have a Plan for Correcting Usage Issues

a man holds a piece of paper and a pen, showing it to his employee
Having a plan for corrective action that includes addressing non-compliance issues helps keep expectations clear. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Corrective action is a necessary component of policy enforcement; a policy without enforcement is simply a hopeful thought that will ultimately be neglected. Do not create policies that you do not intend to enforce – the inconsistency of enforcement will lead to confusion and frustration among your employees.

If you’ve ensured your due diligence by clearly communicating the technology use expectations of your workplace, your employees should never feel surprised by your policy enforcement measures. By making policy awareness a priority, you can ensure that corrective action measures are an expected consequence when addressing an employee’s misuse of technology.

Depending on the sensitivity of the data and systems managed by your organization you will need to determine the degree of corrective actions. 

Tips for Addressing Issues:

  • Determine who is responsible for enforcement, and ensure that they understand when and how they are expected to issue corrective actions.
  • Have detailed procedures prepared in advance for how the corrective actions will be conducted following violations. Include a comprehensive list of the policies that are in place with the intended consequences for each.
  • The corrective action should be proportional to the severity and intent of the policy violation. The severity of intentionally leaking passwords is far greater than, say, a first-time offender being caught browsing the news during working hours; the corrective action should be adjusted accordingly. 

Can Employees Be Fired For Internet Usage?

Internet usage policies that dictate the acceptable use of the internet in the workplace will often include details regarding the employers stance on employee productivity and the use of distracting websites during the work day. While it is not common for employees to be fired for occasional cyberloafing, actively engaging in time theft or doing things that are not safe for work is often grounds for dismissal.

4) Employee Computer Monitoring Software

BrowseReporter Sites Visited report sports and entertainment websites listed.
Employee computer monitoring software such as BrowseReporter tracks application and internet activities, allowing you to address workers that are using technology inappropriately.

Employee computer monitoring software is an excellent tool for enforcing internet usage policies as it allows consistent oversight into how employees are using technology in the workplace. 

Software for monitoring computer use will provide you with tangible insights into the effectiveness of your acceptable use policies. These tools will identify the employees that require further attention, providing the resources needed to ensure that the misuse of technology goes properly addressed.

Uses for Employee Monitoring Software:

  • Track computer activity on a network to provide the technology usage details needed to determine which employees need corrective action.
  • Monitor employee internet use to identify suspicious or unproductive browsing behavior.
  • Reinforce AUPs with custom messages sent to users that attempt to browse inappropriate websites.
  • Restrict internet access to websites that are inappropriate or unsafe (pornography, malware-infested websites, etc)
  • Enhance endpoint security with USB access control configurations.
  • Restrict the use of games and other distracting applications/websites.
  • Identify actively disengaged workers engaging in time theft.

5) Get Employee Buy-In For Your Usage Policy

a photo of a computer screen. The address bar says
If you can get every staff member to buy-in to your usage policy you can increase network security and protect company equipment from web-based threats. Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Your employees will not agree with every policy they are expected to follow. That said, making a genuine effort to foster buy-in when developing an internet acceptable use policy for employees will make the enforcement of your policies significantly easier as they will be less motivated to be actively non-compliant with your expectations.

How to Increase Buy-In:

  • Get employee input when developing or refining your technology and internet policies. Your employees can provide valuable feedback that may indicate if your policy is unreasonable, unfair, or unclear and they can provide additional stipulations that may not be outlined in your current policy.
  • Ensure that your employees understand the intention behind your AUPs. Teach them how the appropriate use of technology helps them and the organization to maintain data security, productivity, and regulation compliance.
  • Communicate your policy frequently and clearly. Well-informed employees that practice the behaviors outlined in your policy will help spread a company culture that respects the expectations provided by your AUPs.

With an acceptable use of technology policy that is understandable, accessible, reasonable, and backed up with industry-standard computer monitoring software, your organization will be better equipped to enforce the safe and respectable use of technology of your users. The five tips above provide an excellent start for creating an environment where AUPs are respected and properly enforced, providing your organization with an added layer of security against cybersecurity threats and other vulnerabilities caused by the negligent use of technology.

If you have not yet developed your organization’s acceptable use of technology policies such as an internet policy or information technology policy, you can visit this article by GetApp for helpful tips.

Free eBook:
5 Common Cybersecurity Threats in 2020

Learn cost-effective solutions to protect your business
against cybersecurity threats in 2020

Dale Strickland
Dale Strickland
Dale Strickland is a Marketing Coordinator for CurrentWare, a global provider of endpoint security and employee monitoring software. Dale’s diverse multimedia background allows him the opportunity to produce a variety of content for CurrentWare including blogs, infographics, videos, eBooks, and social media shareables.