Ethics in the workplace is a combination of morality and rules. Ethics involve trust between employees and the employer, and between employees. While technology (specifically computers and Internet access) can be a huge boon to any business, it can also be a major source of ethics abuse, or the temptation for abuse.
The rules of the workplace generally state computers are to be used for work only. While you may have access to the Internet (perhaps because your office's file search function is hosted on an Internet server), that means you shouldn't use your computer for non-work related functions such as surfing, keeping a private diary or reading Webcomics.
An ethical question is whether or not you can use company equipment on personal time. For instance, if you're on your lunch break, should you be able to check your personal email account? Your workplace will often have a policy on that. However, if you're not sure, it might be best to talk to your supervisor and put the question forward.
A question of computer ethics and privacy falls onto management in the workplace. Spyware such as keyloggers or other programs that watch what a user is doing on a given computer are common at work. However, does the management have the right to eavesdrop on employees? It creates a breach of trust that employees aren't doing their job without an electronic babysitter, but at the same time, it provides proof that no one is misusing computers while on the job.
Related to privacy issues is a person's authorization to use a computer. For instance, say that you are given your own computer at work, but for some reason, you can't access your computer. Do you use a coworker's computer, or do you wait for your issue to be solved? Also, if your manager is using your computer while you're not present, is that a violation of ethics or simply a convenience for the manager? Questions about whether or not people can only use their own computer should be answered firmly.
One of the most blatant violations of computer ethics in the workplace is to use the computer to do harm. This could be done by hacking into another person's computer and deleting important files, by spreading computer viruses through the office network or a variety of other potential options for causing havoc. Intent is a part of doing harm, but even if you cause harm accidentally, you may still be ethically in the wrong.
- computer image by Ewe Degiampietro from Fotolia.com