Incidental Personal Use of Electronic Resources Guidelines


These Guidelines support Georgetown University Policy 401.0, Professional Conduct, specifically section 401.3, Procedures. They clarify the terms “unauthorized use” and “personal business” and reflect changes in business processes.


There are many work-related situations that require the use of electronic resources, from the regular work we all do to situations that require great flexibility, immediate attention, prolonged duty or work from home during off hours. Some University units require access to employees at all times by means of a variety of electronic devices, including cell phones, Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), pagers, computers, and email devices. The realities of the work environment require the University to acknowledge and address the use of University electronic resources by employees for personal reasons.

The University’s guidelines on use of electronic devices must take into account the fact that the cost and pricing of these resources has changed in recent years. For example, rather than per minute charges for many telecommunications devices, there are now flat rates, fixed charges, mega minutes, and assorted discounting plans. These changes do not undermine the need to minimize personal use of University electronic resources, but do alter the analysis of such use.


The University recognizes that its employees may occasionally need to make personal use of University electronic resources and does not wish to prohibit such use altogether. The overriding principle that should govern personal use of these resources is that reasonable and incidental unofficial use of University electronic resources is authorized only so long as (i) the University incurs no additional cost from that use, other than the minimal cost incurred from ordinary wear and tear and the use of minimal amounts of ink, toner, or paper; and (ii) the use does not inappropriately interfere with official business. There are three broad categories of resources to which this principle applies.

  1. Local Telephone Calls; E-mail; Internet Usage The University incurs no additional fixed costs from a local telephone call, an e-mail, or Internet usage. Therefore, reasonable and incidental unofficial use of the equipment is permissible. This category includes the use of University cell phones that are subject to fixed price charges.
  2. Fax; Copier; Printer Sending or receiving a fax, printing a document, and making a copy on the copier can cause the University to incur a negligible cost from the use of paper, ink, and toner. Supervisors and staff must ensure that unofficial use of such equipment is kept to a minimum.
  3. Long-Distance Telephone Calls; Cell Phone Calls In situations where the University would incur an additional fixed cost from the unofficial use of University electronic resources (as with a long-distance call or cell phone call on a calling plan that is based on per-minute usage), the employee must either refrain from using the electronic resources for unofficial purposes, or ensure that the University incurs no additional costs (for example, by using a long distance calling card or prepaid phone card for long-distance calls).

Employees shall use University-provided electronic resources and services primarily for official business, but may make and receive personal communications, including telephone calls during business hours, that are necessary and in the interest of the University. Examples of personal communications that are in the interest of the University include: communications to alert household members about working late or other schedule changes; communications to make alternative child care arrangements; communications with doctors, hospital staff, or day care providers; communications to determine the safety of family or household members, particularly in an emergency; communications to make funeral arrangements; communications to reach businesses or Government agencies that can only be contacted during work hours; and communications to arrange emergency repairs to vehicles or residences.

Incidental personal use of electronic resources must not adversely affect the performance of employee’s official duties or the organization’s work performance, must not be disruptive of co-workers, must be of limited duration and frequency and should be restricted to matters that cannot be addressed during non-duty hours.

To the extent an employee is forced by business circumstances to make personal use of University owned devices, such use should be incidental and immaterial. Appropriate reimbursement for any additional costs incurred by the University because of incidental use should be paid on a pro rata basis.

Examples of inappropriate uses of University electronic resources may include but are not limited to:

  • Any personal use that could cause congestion, delay, or disruption of service to any University unit. For example, electronic greeting cards, video, sound or other large file attachments to electronic communications can degrade the performance of the entire computer network, as can some uses of “push” technology, such as audio and video streaming from the Internet.
  • Use for commercial purposes, in support of “for-profit” activities or in support of other outside employment or business activity (e.g., commercial consulting for pay, sales or administration of business transactions, sale of goods or services). The definition of “commercial purposes” in this example is consistent with the Faculty Handbook and the Code of Conduct for Officers and Senior Administrators (#1007).
  • Political use that is inconsistent with current Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rulings.
  • The creation, copying, transmission, or retransmission of chain letters or other unauthorized mass mailings, regardless of the subject matter, noting that the Computer Systems Acceptable Use Policy and the Solicitation and Distribution Policy take precedence over these Guidelines.
  • Any excessive use for personal or other non-official purposes.

It is a joint responsibility of supervisors and staff to ensure that the incidental personal use of electronic resources is kept to a minimum. Supervisors are expected to monitor periodically for abuses.