Q. A female sales representative submitted a harassment complaint to HR about comments posted by one of her co-workers on MySpace. She said her co-worker had been posting disparaging comments about the company and comments about her that may amount to harassment.
The posting employee says it’s none of our business and if anyone doesn’t like what he says, they shouldn’t read it. Our company’s Internet policy addresses only use of the Internet and personal e-mail in the office. Can we discipline the employee?
A. This is a perfect example of why employers need a robust Internet policy. With no policy, it’s much harder to discipline employees. Plus, employers have a duty to create policies that prevent workplace harassment.
Taking a proactive approach to co-worker harassment will reflect a company’s lack of tolerance for such conduct. You also may be able to discipline employees for insubordination if your policy warns employees that false statements about the company are grounds for discipline.
Employers must be careful to narrowly draft Internet policies so they are not overly broad. They should not hinder protected free speech, nor violate public policy by infringing on an employee’s privacy rights.
Therefore, the policy cannot prohibit all speech, but should inform employees that any comments about the company or co-workers—even on off-work web sites—may constitute insubordination or harassment resulting in discipline up to and including termination.
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