Company Doctor: Companies need new policies for new technologies

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:39 pm

Are your employees blogging on company timeω Do you have a formal process in place to monitor blogs.

Research has shown only one in five U.S. companies have a formal process in place and one in eight have terminated an employee or have taken legal action because of a blog.

It is thought that about 35 million Americans read blogs regularly. There is a good chance your employees are reading one or more blogs while at work and on the clock, thereby negatively affecting productivity. During the recent NCAA tournament, CBS had a “boss protector” so workers could hide the basketball Website and replace it with a work-related page with one click. Is this happening at your company.

You need to be aware that your youngest employees have been exposed to Internet-based, and cell phone conversations since they have been adolescents. It is part of their daily communication patterns.

We have become a cell phone-based society, which generates e-mails and instant text messages from handheld communication devices. Participating in blogs, whether they are sport based, politically oriented or social in their context, is part of their normal behavior. These communication patterns are easily incorporated into their business-connected behaviors.

At an employment law seminar conducted by Michael Best & Friedrich, I attended a workshop on hot topics in e-communications. I was amazed to find out that there was more to e-communications than instant messages and e-mails. In fact, according to the research presented at the workshop, approximately 20,000 blogs are created everyday and anywhere from 10 million to 20 million blogs exist in the United States.

So what is a blogω It is a Weblog, a personal diary that is continually updated, a collaboration space, a news outlet, a collection of links or memos to the world via the Internet. Additional definitions have been provided by the courts in two recent decisions.

In McCabe v. Basham 2006 WL399266, fn.4 (N.D. Iowa 2006) a blog was defined as “an online personal journal with reflections, comments and hyperlinks provided by the writer.”

In Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg & Ellers, LLP v. JPA, 2006 WL 37020, fn. (Pa.Com.Pl. 2006) the court said “A blog is an Internet Website where users interested in a particular topic post messages for other users interested in the same topic to read and respond if they wish.”

As an employer, why should you be concerned about bloggingω Besides the negative impact on productivity, there are other areas that you need to be concerned with including but not limited to breach of confidentiality, defamation, harassment, invasion of privacy, intellectual property and security issues.

So, if your employees are participating in an internal or external blog, how do you take control over this activityω You may already have a policy in your handbook that covers e-mail, Internet usage and other computer based activities, but have not included blogging in your policy statement.

Well, it’s time to revise your handbook, and the banner that appears each day when your employees sign on their computer, with the assistance of an attorney versed in employment law.

Once you complete these revisions and publish them to your workforce, there will be no expectation of privacy when it comes to participating in a blog. Recently, a number of employees have been terminated for blogging activities. Here are some examples that were discussed at the seminar.

• An ESPN columnist was reportedly fired for comments made on his blog.

• A computer programmer was allegedly terminated by Friendster for posting work-related information to her personal blog.

• A Starbucks employee was allegedly fired for disparaging remarks that he made against a supervisor and the company on a blog.

• A Google employee was allegedly terminated for postings he made to his blog in which he commented on his employer and his job.

Once you become aware of an employee who is blogging in violation of a stated company policy, it is advised that you contact an employment attorney prior to considering any adverse action. There may be First Amendment, Sarbanes Oxley, NLRA, Labor Agreement or other potential legal hurdles that need to be addressed. This is where your attorney can assist you in navigating these hurdles and avoiding any unnecessary claims of discrimination, retaliation or violation of existing contracts or laws.

Blogging, like any other unauthorized Internet use, needs to be monitored and controlled in order to protect your employees, your customers and your intellectual property.

Cary Silverstein, MBA, is the president and chief executive officer of Fox Point-based Strategic Management Associates LLC. He can be reached at (414) 352-5140.

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