Think surfing the net at work is harmless? Get a load of this: 28 percent of employers have fired workers for misusing e-mail and one-third have fired workers for misusing the Internet. That’s according to a survey from the American Management Association. So here’s how to protect yourself:

Assume the worst. It’s impossible to know whether or not someone is reading the emails you send at work – and since 66 percent of employers DO monitor what their workers are doing online, it’s a safe bet that there are another pair of eyes watching. So act as if you’re always being watched.

Next, minimize the amount of email you send. Even your personal account passes through the company server, and what you write can land you in trouble. If you have to talk to someone about something non-work related, use a phone your company doesn’t own.

Keep your guard up at home too. If you log on to your company’s network from home, your home computer becomes part of the system until you log off. That means surveillance software can snoop through emails you send and websites you visit.

So, is it right to fire an employee for what they do online? Yes, if it violates company policy. That means, if you’re sharing company information, spreading gossip, or doing anything inappropriate. You can also get fired if what you’re doing is harmless – like browsing Amazon – but your company has a policy against doing personal business during work hours.

However, a New York City judge recently ruled against a company that fired an employee for surfing the internet at work. The judge said, basically, the internet is part of our culture – it’s as if the employee was reading a newspaper. Plus, now that we’re all connected 24/7, employees more than make up for the time wasted on the internet at work – by working at home. The latest statistic is this: The average employee spends nearly four hours per week of work time doing personal stuff online, but they spend more time, six hours per week, surfing for work reasons at home.

The bottom line is this – don’t wait to take your case before a judge. Use common sense and be careful how you use your computer at work.