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Don’t let blabbing employees hide their identity on the Internet

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in Human Resources

Imagine that an employee posts confidential information about your company on an Internet message board. What do you do? One company sued the message-board site to learn the identity of the person, and won!

Here's what happened: Someone with the user name "moonshine_fr" posted information on Yahoo!'s Financial Message Board about Immunomedics, a publicly traded biopharmaceutical firm. "Moonshine_fr" identified herself as a "worried employee," saying the company was "out of stock for diagnostic products in Europe" and that the company was going to fire its European manager.

The statements were true, and anonymous Internet speech ordinarily is protected under the U.S. Constitution. The firm argued, however, that the employee violated confidentiality agreements as well as a common law duty of loyalty.

The New Jersey Appellate Court ruled that the employee couldn't avoid punishment by hiding behind the First Amendment and Yahoo! must reveal the identity of "moonshine_fr." (Immunomedics Inc. v. Doe, a/k/a "moonshine_fr," No. A-2762-00T1, N.J. App., 2001)

Advice: This case gives you even more incentive to have confidentiality policies and agreements in place to defend against leaky employees. Make sure your workers understand that your policies extend beyond their keyboards, and that "going incognito" on the Web won't protect them from prosecution.

Courts will be reluctant to strip the right to speak anonymously, so be prepared to make a compelling case for protecting your business interests.

Also, monitor what's being said about your company on the Internet by scanning key chat rooms, and periodically check for your company's name with various search engines.

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