Ottawa, January 24, 2008 – Web 2.0 favourites such as MySpace, Facebook, Wikipedia and web logs (or “blogs”) have revolutionized the way people use the Internet. They have also cost companies hundreds of millions of dollars in productivity and raised the stakes in managing trade secrets and confidential information. They have even resulted in terminations and lawsuits in Canada and the United States. Most notably, the Web 2.0 phenomenon has caused a paradigm shift in the multi-billion dollar world of advertising. Brand names and images can now be tarnished by employees for all the world to see. Mary Gleason and Anthony Moffatt of Ogilvy Renault’s Employment and Labour Group talked to Ottawa employers today about how companies can address these issues.

“The law of Web 2.0 in the workplace is the latest example of how the law can lag behind technology. Decisions are only starting to emerge,” says Gleason, partner in Ogilvy Renault’s Employment and Labour Group. “This makes many employers anxious—indications are that Web 2.0 is fast becoming a new legal battleground for employers and employees.”

One of the biggest challenges employers face is dealing with employees’ off-duty use of Web 2.0. What can an employer do when an employee posts critical comments about their company on their own time and personal computer? Indications are that employers may have cause for discipline if the information is:

  • confidential
  • defamatory of the company or a co-worker
  • constitutes harassment of a co-worker
  • insubordinate, insolent, or breaches an employee’s obligation of loyalty and fidelity
  • damaging to the company’s reputation

“Employers can protect themselves against Web 2.0 misuse in several ways,” notes Gleason. “Installing ‘blocker’ software on workplace computers is a good start. So is informing employees that Web 2.0 posts can affect the company and their careers. Employers can also implement written policies and learn the legitimate grounds for discipline for Web 2.0 misuse.”

Looking forward, Gleason suspects that Web 2.0 employment law will begin to reflect the attitudes of today’s younger generation that will grow up with the technology. This might create a new set of challenges for employers.