A blog, short for “weblog,” is an online journal where the author can share his or her thoughts and opinions with the millions of people who surf the Internet each day. To capitalize on the rapid rise in popularity of blogs as a form of new media, many of the nation’s leading companies have begun to publish offi cial corporate blogs as a means to humanize the company, reach customers and address critics in a personal and informal way. As companies are enthusiastically joining the “blogosphere,” they should be mindful that their employees are also turning to blogging as a form of self-expression, and that the content of their employee’s private blogs may have legal and fi nancial ramifi cations for the company. An employee’s personal blog may chronicle all aspects of his or her life, including work. Where employees use a public forum, such as blogging, to share their thoughts on corporate policies or business decisions of their employers, there is a danger that they will disclose confi dential business information or trade secrets. Where an employee’s blog contains inappropriate or harassing comments about another employee, a company may be vulnerable to claims for sexual harassment and hostile work environment. Companies also face a growing threat of defamation claims where the employee’s private blog contains defamatory comments on topics within the scope of the employee’s employment or authority.
In light of these dangers, employers have begun to discipline or terminate employees for the content of their personal blogs. However, prior to making the decision to discipline or terminate an employee for the content of his or her personal blog, an employer should consult with an attorney to make sure their actions will not run afoul of the law. In particular, a company should examine whether their actions may be construed as punishing an employee for engaging in a protected activity such as, inter alia, the organization of union activity, or the discussion of wages, hours, and other terms of employment. Additionally, a company should consider the negative impact that disciplining an employee for their private, off-duty activities may have on employee morale and on the company’s public image.
In order to inform their employees of the possible dangers that their off-duty blogging may pose to their employer as well as to their own job security, an employer should formulate a company policy specifi cally addressing off-duty Internet usage. In general, an off-duty Internet usage policy should remind employees that:
- They are personally responsible for the content of their blogs and other personal Internet communications;
- The content of their off-duty Internet communications should comport with corporate policies, including those prohibiting the disclosure of the company’s confi dential information and trade secrets;
- Their communications should abide by all laws, in particular those concerning the disclosure of fi nancial information; and
- They may not post any material that is obscene, defamatory, profane, libelous, threatening, harassing, abusive, hateful or embarrassing to any other person or entity.
By adopting a comprehensive off-duty Internet usage policy, a company puts its employees on notice of the standards that apply to blog postings and, accordingly, a company may begin to minimize the risks that stem from an employee’s private blog.