Monday, November 9, 2009

Blogging Can Cause Damage to Your Company’s Image

This article was written by Bern Lefson, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

clip_image001Today's bloggers can and do release anger and possible trade secrets.With this new method of expressing themselves, employees need to know what the boundaries are when commenting about their employer.  This dictates that the employer writes a policy on blogging that will provide the protection needed or enable the employer to take appropriate action.  Before taking any adverse action, however, employers should carefully consider whether the blogger's actions may be legally protected.  Rash employer responses can result in claims of unjust termination, discrimination, retaliation, and/or violations of state or federal laws, thereby compounding the damage caused by the blogger's posting and, in many cases, causing more damage to the employer than caused by the original posting in the first place.  Here is a sample policy an employer may consider.  It was written by Keisha-Ann G. Gray senior counsel in the Labor & Employment Law in New York .

XYZ acknowledges the growing popularity of Weblogs or "blogs," personal Web sites, and other public Internet communications as a means for sharing experiences, ideas, and opinions with the public.  However, because of the legal and other ramifications that may stem from publicly posting material, we have adopted the following policy regarding public Internet communications both during working and non-working time.  Public Internet communications.   This policy applies to all Internet communications that may be accessed by the public, including but not limited to blogs, personal Web sites, and discussion forums.  Blogging not permitted on company time.  

All blogging and other Internet activity during work hours and/or using company equipment or connections is subject to the company Internet and computer use policies.  Unless specifically authorized by a company official, blogging and other public Internet communications are not permitted during an employee's working time.  During non-working time, the following requirements must be met:

Disclaimer required. Any reference to XYZ, XYZ employees or customers publicly posted on the Internet must contain a disclaimer indicating that the thoughts and opinions expressed belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the company. 

Posting of certain protected information prohibited. Employees may not disclose trade secrets, confidential business information (e.g., business plans, strategies, customer information, etc.) or other proprietary information belonging to XYZ or its customers to individuals outside the company, including through blogs and other Internet postings.  In addition, employees must not disclose certain company financial information in violation of securities laws or regulations.  Employees wishing to post blogs or other public Internet communications should be aware that copyright and trademark law mayrestrict the use and copying of material belonging to XYZ and others.

Employees may not violate the intellectual property or privacy rights of others.  Other prohibited activities. XYZ's equal employment opportunity policy and its policies against sexual or other harassment apply fully to the use of the Internet, including blogging. If conduct is in violation of our policies and/or is seen as compromising the interest of the company, the company may request that you cease the volatile commentary or remove the offensive posting, and may take appropriate disciplinary action.

Other guidelines.  Employees are reminded that they are personally responsible for material they post on a blog or Web site.  In addition, employees wishing to maintain blogs or Web sites should be aware that  they could be held responsible for content posted by third parties, such as comments. Employees are encouraged to monitor and/or restrict such third-party content on any Web sites or blogs they maintain.  

Violations of policy.  Failure to follow this policy may result in disciplinary action, including possible termination.   All blogs and other public Internet communications are subject to the other policies contained in this handbook, including but not limited to the Internet and Computer use policies, equal employment opportunity policy and the policies against sexual or other harassment.