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Judge: Worker can't be fired for Web surfing

Administrative law judge rules that New York City worker can not be fired for surfing the Web from work.

A New York City employee cannot be fired for surfing the Web from work, an administrative law judge has ruled.

In his decision, Judge John Spooner said that agencies should apply the same standard to personal Internet use as they do to other personal activities. He noted that many agencies allow employees to take personal calls, or even read the newspaper, as long as those activities do not interfere with a worker's overall performance.

Toquir Choudhri, a Department of Education employee of 14 years, was accused of ignoring supervisors who warned him to stop browsing the Internet while at work. An investigation found evidence that Choudhri had browsed news and travel Web sites from his work computer.

"Look, at 4 in the morning, or because of the nature of the department, some city agencies have downtime. Surfing on the Internet--everybody does it," Martin Druyan, the union attorney representing Choudhri, told CNET News. "Choudhri was singled out in retaliation for discrimination charges that he filed against the Department of Education," he said.

"The judge ruled in our favor because they could not prove that work was backed up, or that phone calls went unanswered," Druyan added. "We don't advocate goofing off. The public should be served. But if there's not work, it's not his fault."

Choudhri was not fired, but Spooner reprimanded him in a letter that will go into Choudhri's employee file.

Druyan said he was pleased with the decision.

in February during his tour of the city's Albany legislative offices, after noticing a game of computer solitaire on the employee's screen.

The Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings judges rule on New York City municipal policies. Because Spooner's decision directly affects New York City agencies, the decision could have an influence on Bloomberg's earlier action.