Employees in Broward County who have spent time in the workplace checking personal email or Facebook accounts can rest assured that these actions–while perhaps against a workplace policy–are not illegal.

The federal Computer Fraud Abuse Act has previously been used by employers to attempt to classify these actions as felonies under the law, but this week a federal appeals court said that it is simply not against the law for workers to use a work computer for personal use. The decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed against an employee alleging trade secret theft, mail fraud and other violations of the CFAA in relation to violating his company’s computer policies.

The CFAA is meant to be an anti-hacking law, and an appeals court agreed with a lower court that the computer fraud charges in this case needed to be dropped. While this ruling does mean that it is not a federal crime to read the newspaper online at work, or Facebook chat with friends, these actions can still be risky as you may be disciplined or even fired for them–depending on your employment contract and your employer’s policies.

The judge in this case said that by narrowing the federal law’s scope, the court is ensuring that employees will not be prosecuted for procrastinating at work.

As we have discussed previously in this blog, Florida’s employment laws face many new challenges in the digital age and the law in many of these areas remain somewhat undefined. This was recently exampled with social media access issues. Those who face employment law issues like these often benefit from talking with an employment law professional.

Source: Forbes “Good News: Goofing Off On Your Work Computer Is No Longer A Federal Crime,” Kashmir Hill, April 11, 2012