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Shopping while on the job? Be prepared for consequences

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday just days away, workers who plan to bargain hunt while on the clock should do so with caution.

Nearly half (48 percent) of chief information officers (CIOs) interviewed by Robert Half Technology said they block access to online shopping sites; another one-third (34 percent) said they allow access but monitor activity for excessive use. The CIOs whose companies allow shopping said they expect employees to spend three hours per week, on average, bagging online deals while at work this holiday season.

The survey was developed by Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of information technology (IT) professionals on a project and full-time basis. It was conducted by an independent research firm and is based on telephone interviews with more than 1,400 CIOs from companies across the United States with 100 or more employees. CIOs were asked, "What is your company's policy regarding employees shopping online while at work?" Their responses:

Block access to online shopping sites - 48 percent

Allow access but monitor for excessive use - 34 percent

Allow unrestricted access - 14 percent

Other/don't know - 4 percent

CIOs whose companies allow access to online shopping sites also asked, "How many hours per week do you think the average employees in your organization spends shopping online during the holiday season?" The mean response was three hours.

"Many companies monitor computer use, and excessive shopping is a red flag that could put someone's job at risk," said John Reed, executive director of Robert Half Technology. "Even if employers allow online shopping, employees should use good judgment and not abuse the privilege."

Robert Half Technology offers four tips to shop wisely in cyberspace this holiday season:

--Know your limits. Some employers permit online shopping, within reason. Know your company's policy, including sites or hours to avoid, before bargain-hunting on the Web.

--Prevent personal information from being "shoplifted." If a holiday offer looks too good to be true, it likely is. Avoid clicking on links or sites that could infect your company's network with phishing attacks or viruses.

--Buy rather than browse. Your employer may allow online shopping, but not at the expense of your job duties. A liberal computer use policy is not a license to spend all day filling your shopping cart.

--Score some deals after work. If you have projects that require immediate attention, save your holiday shopping for the evening or weekend. No online promotion is worth putting your career at risk.