Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Digital Graffiti: What Every Employer Should Know about Employee Blogging

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Digital Graffiti: What Every Employer Should Know about Employee Blogging

Article excerpt

The legalities surrounding technology in the workplace are complicated enough for banking professionals. Today we've added a new headache that should prompt employers to change employee manuals. "Blogging"--which is an online computer journal (a "weblog," or "blog" for short)--has become a fun, faddy way to express "e-pinions" to the world and discuss everything from political roundtables to the latest smart remarks of the celebrity flavor-of-the-month.

There are over 5 million online blogs, and the number increases daily. Blogging can be a novel way to disseminate information and form connections with other interested online friends. Or it can be a dangerous, mean-spirited way to publicly humiliate and anonymously attack.

But what happens when employees use blogs to talk about what goes on at work? Perhaps they are divulging sensitive corporate information, harassing or defaming co-workers, or giving the competition insight into a bank's day-to-day decisionmaking.

Banking managers and professionals should know exactly what they can and cannot do when they discover an employee producing or participating in a work-related blog. Blogs will only grow in popularity and number, and smart managers will have policies in place before trouble starts.

Blogging off the clock

By now, employers ought to feel comfortable with regulating internet and e-mail use during working hours on company-owned computers. Electronic communications policies have been around long enough to have almost all of their legal kinks worked out. A more difficult problem occurs, however, when employees create blogs expressing embarrassing opinions about their employers, their services, and co-workers while using their own computers and outside of work.

Alternatively, employees may represent themselves unprofessionally or distastefully in connection with their job. This conduct could reflect poorly on the employer and cause negative publicity, a decline in stock price, and other bad results.

Employees may even post very sensitive information on a blog about a company without thinking about the potential ramifications. Subject to applicable state laws governing an employer's regulation of off-the-job conduct, private-sector employers generally can prohibit employees from posting disparaging information about them or their products. Employers can also prohibit employees from sharing information considered proprietary, confidential, or constituting intellectual property.

Additionally, employers can and should prohibit language, photos, or other content that is harassing or discriminatory towards co-workers, vendors or customers. Employees who post discriminatory or sexually explicit language or photos of themselves or a co-worker could ensnare their employers in litigation.

A blogger's rights

On the other hand, a bank must be careful when disciplining employees for blogging about certain issues--whether after-hours or not--when such matters are protected by applicable federal and state laws.

For example, an employee's blog about an employer's wages or conditions of employment may be protected by the National Labor Relations Act. …

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