News

Growth of blogs by employees outpaces company policies to regulate them
February 06, 2006
Arnall Golden Gregory LLP
Survey says bosses should be allowed to fire workers who damage a company’s reputation in online postings

ATLANTA, Feb. 6, 2006—While tens of millions of Americans report having posted Web logs—or personal online diaries—a recent survey finds that relatively few companies have adopted specific, written policies to regulate content produced by their employees.

The survey, conducted by the Employment Law Alliance, also found that a majority of Americans believe that the blogging of damaging, embarrassing or negative information about one’s employer should be grounds for discipline, if not termination.

“The ELA survey on employee blogging habits should serve as a wake-up call to corporate America and small businesses,” said Henry M. Perlowski, co-chair of the Employment Law Team at Atlanta law firm Arnall Golden Gregory LLP. “Without written rules and guidelines in place, businesses may find it more difficult to discourage inappropriate blogging ahead of time or to discipline employees who clearly cross the line in posting content detrimental to the company.”

The telephone poll of 1,000 adults, conducted over the weekend of Jan. 22 by Philadelphia-based research firm The Reed Group LLC, found that 55 percent of those surveyed think an employee who posts proprietary or confidential company information on a blog deserves to be fired or disciplined. Only 23 percent of American workers believe that people should be able to post criticism or satire about their employer without fear of reprisal.

The ELA poll’s findings come as a growing number of Americans turn to blogs as a creative outlet to disseminate information. Five percent of those surveyed reported having posted content to a blog. At the same time, only 15 percent of survey respondents reported working for a company with specific policies or rules addressing blogging.

Of the employees who reported blogging, 16 percent said they had posted information that could be considered negative or critical regarding their employers, supervisors, co-workers, customers or clients. A large majority of bloggers, 84 percent, said they had never posted any employer-related information on their blog.

With the potential for employees to use blogs to engage in pre-organizing campaign activities and/or disparage, embarrass or damage the company’s reputation, every business should draw up unambiguous blogging policies, Perlowski recommended.

“New Web technologies have unleashed a Pandora’s Box of legal issues in the workplace that most employers have yet to begin to tackle,” Perlowski said. “While any employer has the right to inspect and control the use of content created on company-owned machines, the extent of corporate reach into the regulation of an employee’s off-duty blogging from a computer at home is a matter of legal debate. At the same time, courts are beginning to mandate that employers thoroughly monitor and respond to inappropriate usage of company-provided technologies.”

The ELA phone survey found that among those working for a company with a blogging policy, 77 percent of those policies prohibited or discouraged the posting of certain employee-related information, 62 percent prohibited posting employer-related personal opinions and 60 percent discouraged any criticism or negative comments against the employer. Just over one-fifth, or 23 percent, do not limit types of information that can be posted on blogs.

Other findings regarding the content of business blogging policies include:

  • 58 percent deal with all blogging regardless of content.
  • 33 percent address only blogging considered employer-related.
  • 49 percent distinguish between blogging done from the employer’s computer system and blogging done from home.
  • 18 percent encourage employees to promote the company’s business or reputation on their blogs.

AGG is the exclusive Georgia representative for the Employment Law Alliance, the world’s largest integrated, global practice network comprised of premier, independent law firms distinguished for their practice in employment and labor law. There are member firms in every jurisdiction in the United States and more than 65 countries around the world. For more information, visit www.employmentlawalliance.com.

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Contacts:
Henry Perlowski, 404.873.8684,
henry.perlowski@agg.com  
Thad Slaton, 404.422.6169,
tslaton@hudsonslaton.com