Is it stealing to read by the light of your neighbour's candle? Or, should companies pay for employees' broadband?

Back when I worked for an ISP, my employer paid for me to have broadband. I was expected to work from home a few days a month and they needed their workers to have high-bandwidth connectivity. Because it was a business expense, we all received BIG SCARY WARNINGS that the broadband was only to be used for work. Absolutely no domestic use allowed.

*nudge nudge wink wink*

Of course, everyone ignored that directive and used it for web-surfing after-hours.

Was that theft? Our employer paid the same amount whether we used it for a few emails during the day or for all-night Xbox sessions. Our extra-curricular use didn't cost the business any money. There may have been some tax implications for receiving a Benefit-In-Kind, but how do you apportion usage of a service?

Whatever the future brings, I think it's clear that lots of office workers are going to be working from home a few days a week now. So should your employer pay for broadband? If so, are you allowed to use it for non-work purposes?

It got me thinking about all the costs I already have to personally bear when working.

  • Commuting. The big one! £3,000ish per year. Most large employers offer a loan to help offset the cost.
  • Home office costs. Buying or renting a place with enough space to have an office is a significant expense.
  • Clothing. I've worked jobs where I had to buy the uniform. While I wouldn't usually turn up to work naked, I occasionally have to buy smart-looking clothes.
  • Lunch. Sure, I could pack sandwiches - but they're yucky after an hour-long commute. So I buy something overpriced from a local shop.
  • Beer. No, it isn't mandatory to go to after-work drinks. But you want to be a team player, don't you?

I'm sure you can add your own examples.

In the UK, top price broadband maxes out at about £50 per month. I don't think that's a huge expense for a business - especially if they're saving on office costs.

Or, am I expected to pay for broadband myself in the same way that I'm expected to own a suit, tie, and sensible shoes?

If not, is it OK to use my work-provided broadband for watching Netflix?

A few years ago, someone was arrested for allegedly using someone else's unsecured WiFi. Is that theft?

"It is a bit like reading your book from the light coming out from someone's window"
Julian Baggini, Philosopher
BBC News (2007)

My wife has written about this from a philosophical perspective - you should go read her eloquent take on the issue.

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9 thoughts on “Is it stealing to read by the light of your neighbour's candle? Or, should companies pay for employees' broadband?”

  1. Neil says:

    In the UK, top price broadband maxes out at about £50 per month

    And, if the organisation was of a sufficient size to get a volume discount, they might be able to bring the cost down even more. But that would entail the employee accepting the employer's choice of supplier.

    using someone else’s unsecured WiFi. Is that theft?

    No. To be theft, one has to dishonestly appropriate someone else's property (with the intent to deprive them of it permanently).

  2. said on

    We probably need to convince HMRC to be sensible. Back when I used to claim travel expenses I couldn't claim hotel WiFi (for the backwards places that it wasn't free) because it was considered you would only use it for personal rather than catching up on work email

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  3. Pavel says:

    I don't like the wifi analogy; after all, using someone's wifi does use something measurable - available bandwidth and their data allotment. Wifi is closer to a water fountain someone hooked up in their front yard, close enough to the sidewalk that someone could lean over and drink from - every time someone takes a sip, they use up some of the water provided to the house, and drop the water pressure.

  4. said on

    Tax nightmare.

    Years ago I was chastised by HMRC for giving myself a £10 PM phone allowance which didn't even come close to the actual costs. So I had to take out a £30 PM contract and pay myself the entire amount as expenses. Hence all personal calls were free.


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