Do You Have a Corporate Blogging Policy?

Posted on December 28, 2006

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The beginning of a new year is always a great time to revisit your company’s personnel policies. With the rise of technology in our personal and business lives, one often overlooked policy relates to "blogging." What do you allow or prohibit with regard to your company and employees on the use of blogging as a communication tool?

According to a report conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, The State of Blogging (January 2005),seven percent (7%) of the 120 million adults in the United States who use the Internet say they have created a blog or web-based diary. This represents more than 8 million people. Twenty-seven percent (27%) of Internet users said they read blogs, a 58% increase from a study conducted in February 2004. This means that by the end of 2004, more than 32 million Americans were blog readers.

While blogs can foster interoffice communication and are a highly effective, inexpensive means of mass direct marketing, the potential for abuse by employees is enormous. Any employee with a computer, or e-mail or web-enabled device, can be easily distracted from work posting personal opinions or reading blogs during company time. As a result, job productivity and performance can suffer. The potential for trouble, however, significantly increases when the employee, either on or off the clock, begins posting content on the Internet.

Bloggers can post comments, tape recordings, video clips or documents by sending a message to their website from a desktop computer, wireless device or any other device that sends e-mail. Some blog hosting services even provide a service where an individual can call from a phone and leave a message that is immediately posted to his or her blog as an MP3 audio file.

Unlike traditional print media, blogs are devoid of any form of external checks or balances. Angry and disgruntled employees, who want to say something about their employers, even if often factually inaccurate, now have an audience of potentially millions of readers. They may post comments that disparage your company, defame your company’s image, harass other employees, or leak your company’s trade secrets and other sensitive information. Because blogs have the potential to reach a worldwide audience in an instant, an employee blogger’s antics could have an immediate and disastrous impact.

While employers have substantial latitude when disciplining employee-bloggers, an employer should take care before an employee-blogger is “dooced” (to lose one’s job because of one’s website) . In certain circumstances, a blog that is critical of an employer might constitute legally protected whistleblowing. Some of the National Labor Relations Act’s (NLRA) provisions apply to employers who are not unionized or facing a union campaign. The NLRA, for example, prohibits all employers from restricting discussion among employees concerning the terms and conditions of their employment. Thus, if an employee wished to blog about her terms and conditions of employment, and restricted access to her website to only current fellow employees, her comments arguably would be protected by the NLRA and similar state laws, and adverse action based on the blog’s content might be unlawful.

Blogging by state or federal employees may be protected by the First Amendment. Even where no specific statute is implicated, a successful Tameny-type claim (a wrongful discharge action based upon the employee’s alleged exercise of certain fundamental and substantial statutory rights and privileges) might still be made based solely upon the constitutional right to free speech.

Companies should develop a workplace blogging policy in order to make clear the boundaries of expectations and limitations to employees. The following are some points to consider in developing a policy:

You’re personally responsible. All policies should stress that bloggers are personally responsible for their posts.
Disclaimer. The employee should make clear on his or her blog that the views expressed are his or hers alone and not that of the company.
Abide by existing policies and rules. A blogging policy should refer to present corporate policies and form a basis for the blogging rules.
Keep secrets. Prohibit employees from disclosing confidential or proprietary information of the company, or of any third-party that has disclosed such information. Refer employees to the company’s policy on what constitutes confidential information.
Be nice. Require bloggers to be respectful to the company, co-workers, customers, partners and competitors.
Follow the law. Require bloggers to respect and abide by copyrights and follow laws that regulate what can be written. This includes not only defamatory, libelous, harassing and abusive statements, but also statements about revenue, future plans of the company or share price if you are a public company.
You can [or cannot] write on company time. Make clear whether the employee can or cannot blog during work time, and limit blogging that interferes with work commitments.
Cite and link. Require employees to obtain permission from a designation company official if they want to provide a link from their sites to the company’s website.
Discuss with your manager. Bloggers should discuss with their managers if they in any way are uncertain about what they are going to write.
Stop blogging if we say so. Inform employees that the company may request that they temporarily confine their website or blog commentary to topics unrelated to the company if you believe that it’s advisable or necessary to comply with securities regulations or other laws.
Discipline. Caution employees that a breach of the blogging policy could result in discipline up to and including termination.
Designate company official. Designate a company official as the appropriate person to answer any questions employees may have about their person website or blogs in relation to the company blogging policy.

The Yourdon Report has compiled a list of sample blogging policies available on the internet. (Thanks to Human Law for the link.) Also, the Corporate Blogging Blog (now only an archive of posts) has compiled a similar list and generated further discussion on this issue from which some of the points in this post are taken.

N. DeWayne Pope, DeWayne Pope LLC

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