With the convenience of the internet, most employers enjoy quick and effective communications with their employees. But lately, many employers are expressing some concern with employees who have started “blogging.” This concern stems from the fear that some of these employees may be disclosing company matters or worse, criticizing the employer online. Because of these reasons, it is not surprising that many employers are looking for ways to address these employee blogging issues.
Employee blogging can involve the disclosure of confidential business information, disparagement or criticism of other employees or of the company itself, and display interests that are in conflict with the company contracts and policies.
The trend these days show the court’s support for employers who decided to terminate a particular employee who was found to be engaging in behavior that is in conflict with the company’s best interest.
It has actually been established that employees who damage their employer via blogging are violating their obligation to be loyal to the company. This duty of loyalty encompasses duties of confidentiality and obedience. On the other hand, this duty of loyalty is violated in cases of disparagement of the managers, criticism of the company, harmful speech and insubordination.
One example of an employee blogging that became a problem for the employer involved a flight attendant who posted provocative photos of herself wearing her airline uniform. Another employee, hired by Google, posted his criticism and other impressions of his employer. A Microsoft employee also took photos of several Apple computers as they were delivered and posted them on his personal blog. All these employees, in this case, were terminated on the basis of their personal blog content.
The blog monitoring being conducted by these employers is being considered by many employees as a violation of their “right to free speech.” This right to free speech, however, as indicated in the First Amendment, only covers the government’s restrictions on individuals or groups. But in “employment-at-will” states, existing law allows employers to terminate employees who were found to be disloyal to the company.
Even so, employers should be very careful when involved in situations involving employee blogging. If they are not careful, they could damage their reputation in the business community especially if they were seen as being too intrusive to their employee’s personal activities.
In order to avoid these concerns, employers should implement general employee blogging policies, which will cover blogging agreements and procedures to be followed for employee blogging. These policies should also cover the use of electronic resources as well as rules on harassment, discrimination and non-disclosure.
The agreement between employers and employees must also include in detail policies and guidelines involving the removal and use of confidential company information and rules for the use of company-sponsored blogs. In case the employer has not yet created guidelines for internet usage, the company should immediately come up with one.
The employer should then advise their employees that they will be monitoring personal internet use especially during work hours.
Lastly, employers must check the present condition of their internet security in order to know if they are at risk for data mismanagement including internet sites and archived emails. The general policies covering such internet usage and blogging should guarantee that the employees will not be able to disparage or criticize their employers and should promote confidentiality and professionalism.
While employee blogging guidelines may result in communication limitations, employers should be careful not to impede on labor laws, whistleblower statutes and other employment-at will policies. The employers should be aware that there are states that consider it illegal to terminate employees for off-site or private activities unrelated to their employment.
There are also cases where termination is deemed illegal when the employee posted the company’s illegal activities on their blog. In connection, employees should be allowed to post statements related to union organizing and other similar activities. In other words, employee blogging policies should be drafted based upon these considerations.
It is recommended that employers assign an individual to do the blog monitoring. There are actually public corporations that are obligated to monitor employee communications as part of state or federal regulation.
On the other hand, private corporations are allowed to monitor communications to make sure that their employees are not involved in improper conduct such as disclosure of confidential company information. More importantly, a company should create an employee blogging policy that adheres to the guidelines set by the National Labor Relations Act, where blogging activities are protected. Employers should make sure that their monitoring does not violate any NLRA policies on blogging. Informing employees of any revisions to the existing policies or changes in implementing guidelines is equally important.
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