A quick scan of the world’s 156 million blogs reveals plenty of employees discussing their work. Sometimes that spells legal trouble for employers. By implementing an effective company blogging policy, you may avoid many of the pitfalls.
Most company blogging policies require employees to assume personal responsibility for all blog content, abide by existing corporate policies, keep company information confidential—and be nice. Some employers prohibit employees from discussing work at all.
However, all company blogging policies should contain some crucial provisions.
Note: Don’t roll policies regulating online behavior into your general computer-use policy. They should stand on their own as a separate policy, possibly regulating all social media. After all, the same dangers exist on Facebook and other social platforms.
Blogging at work
“Cyberslacking” employees spend hours each week surfing the Internet, shopping, emailing, playing “Angry Birds”—and blogging. Not only are these employees stealing time from work, they may also be exposing their employers to defamation, harassment, discrimination and disparagement claims. Their activities increase the risk of exposing confidential information and trade secrets.
You are well within your rights as an employer to regulate how employees use their work computers. You may prohibit blogging during work hours. If you elect to monitor how employees use their computers—as many employers do—notify employees you will be tracking their blogging, Internet and email traffic. That way, employees will have no reasonable expectation of privacy on their work computers.
Blogging on personal time
Even when employees are not at work, they still may represent the company. Your policy can address how employees treat business-related matters even when blogging on their own time.
Instruct employees not to use the company name to endorse or promote any product, commercial enterprise, opinion, cause or political candidate. Further, require employees to identify themselves when discussing the company or company-related matters.
For example, in its “Social Computing Guidelines,” IBM requests bloggers who identify themselves as company employees to ensure that their online presence is consistent with how they wish to present themselves to colleagues and clients. It asks employees to write in the first person and make it clear that they are speaking for themselves and not the company. Further, IBM asks its employees to include a disclaimer on their blogs, stating “the postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily reflect IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”
Note: A disclaimer by itself doesn’t exempt supervisors from special responsibility. By virtue of their positions, they must consider whether their postings could be misconstrued as company positions. Of course, managers should never use private blogs to communicate company policies to employees.
Remind employees not to comment on confidential company information: the company’s future business performance, business plans or prospects. Trade secrets lose protection status when disclosed without confidentiality restrictions, which could jeopardize the company’s ability to obtain patent protection on an invention.
Effective blogging policies place responsibility for postings on the employee. Individuals can be held personally liable for any statements deemed to be defamatory, obscene, proprietary or libelous (whether they pertain to their employer, individuals or another company). Employees may also be liable if they post confidential or copyrighted information belonging to third parties, such as music, videos or text. Employees should obtain permission before using company trademarks or reproducing company material on their sites.
The blogging policy should also state that a violation of any company policy may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination. This includes violation of the company’s general electronic communications and confidentiality policies, as well as the company’s harassment and equal employment opportunity policies.
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