Employers Addressing Employee Blogging

By Pushor Mitchell LLP
Categories: Blog, Employment Law

The proliferation of so-called blogs has created an unprecedented opportunity for individuals to publish their thoughts to a huge audience. Unfortunately for employers, the blogging trend has created yet another workplace headache.

For those of us still getting accustomed to listening to music on compact discs, a blog (or weblog) is simply a website on which an individual frequently posts commentary, photographs, or whatever else strikes their fancy. It is a web-based mechanism for publishing and is accessible by an almost unlimited audience.

Like other forms of technology, blogging has penetrated the workplace and employers are struggling to respond to this new challenge. Employers, being a somewhat conservative (some would say slow) bunch have begun to awaken to the challenges employee blogs present. There are, generally speaking, three ways in which employees’ personal blogs negatively impact the employer.

As an aside, I don’t want to be perceived as suggesting all blogs are evil and any employee who has a blog must be eliminated. The point is simply that when an employee utilizes technology in a way that harms the employer, a remedial response is required.

First, there are the employees who seemingly feel obligated to publish critical comments about their employer. It is a strange phenomenon, indeed, that some people are oblivious to the fact their published statements are bound to come to the attention of their employer. Yet, news reports already abound about employees fired for publishing critical or insulting comments about bosses and employers.

Second, there are the employees whose personal activities, though not aimed specifically at their employer, nonetheless reflect poorly on the company. An extreme example would be a blog containing pornographic materials and other highly objectionable content. It is no longer unusual for an employee to be disciplined or fired for engaging in conduct that, albeit indirectly, harms the employer’s reputation and good will in the community.

Third, there are employees who seem to think that work time is really meant for keeping their blogs up to date. This is probably the biggest headache for employers because of the resulting loss of productivity and efficiency. The employee conducting blog maintenance on company time is engaging in time theft and is a likely candidate for disciplinary measures.

Gradually, employers are coming around to the realization that these categories of bloggers are detrimental to the business. The result is a growing trend towards introducing policies and disciplinary measures aimed at limiting these activities.

When asked what an employer’s blogging policy should contain, I usually start with a restatement of the employer’s existing technology guidelines. Those guidelines should emphasize that all company equipment and technology (computers, copiers, internet access, etc.) is intended for work-related use only. They must make clear that employees are not welcome to use the company’s technological resources for personal purposes.

The next step in the policy is to emphasize that time at the workplace is time for working, not playing. Employees who have time-consuming outside interests must keep those activities outside of the workplace. Whether it is sending and receiving personal emails or reading and maintaining a personal blog, that activity should occur during off hours, not at work.

The policy must remind employees that their internet (or other) publications must not negatively affect the employer’s reputation or good will. Published materials which are insulting to the employer, or are otherwise objectionable in their content such that they might damage the employer’s reputation, will not be tolerated.

The policy must, of course, contain a clear warning of the ramifications of unacceptable blogging activities. Typically, the warning will be to the effect that a failure to adhere to the policy will, depending on the circumstances, result in disciplinary measures up to and including dismissal.

While it sounds like such a policy intrudes severely on the personal space of the individual, the reality is the range of prohibited activities is quite narrow. The employee simply must use his or her own equipment and time for personal blogging purposes and must avoid content which, directly or indirectly, harms the employer or its reputation.

Really, that’s not such a tall order. Nonetheless, it’s an order with which some individuals will have difficulty complying. That’s the time when having a policy will come in handy.