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What Employers Should Know about Employee Blogging

With the convenience brought about by the internet age, most employers enjoy quick and effective communication with their employees. But lately, many employers are showing some concern with their employees who have started blogging. This concern stems from the fear that some of their employees are disclosing company matters or worse, criticizing them 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 the other employee or 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 interest.

It has actually been established that employees who damage their employer via blogging is violating their obligation to be loyal to the company. This loyalty encompasses duties of confidentiality and obedience. On the other hand, this sense 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 her provocative photos wearing the airline uniform. Another employee, hired by Google, posted his criticism and 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 the blog content.

The blog monitoring being conducted by the employers is being considered by many employees as a violation of their “right to free speech”. However, this right to free speech as indicated in the First Amendment, only covers the government’s restrictions on individuals or groups. But in states like Illinois, “employment-at-will” 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 situations, employers should implement general employee blogging policies, which will cover blogging agreements and procedures. 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 to communication limitations, employers should be careful not to impede on labor laws, whistleblower statutes and other policies in employment-at will. 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 on 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 their regulation. On the other hand, private corporations are allowed to monitor communication 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 of the NLRA’s policy on blogging. Informing employees of any revisions in the existing policies or changes in the implementing guidelines is very important.

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