Employees used to go down the pub to let off steam about their employers, but now they can tell the world about their gripes through online diaries.
But what can employers do to monitor web logs, or blogs? There are about five million online diaries on the internet. Clearly, maintaining a positive corporate brand is critical to businesses. Situations in which employees are being openly critical of their employers are undesirable.
Bookseller Waterstones, for example, recently won a claim brought against it by a former employee who was dismissed for criticising the company in a blog.
IT professionals bear a joint responsibility with the human resources department for dealing with blogging.
Tackling blogging raises the potential legal implications of disciplinary proceedings against an employee who brings a company into disrepute, employment tribunal claims arising from such action, and defamation claims the company might bring against the employee.
One method to avoid these is to control how staff use the internet at work. It is unrealistic to bar personal use altogether, but employers should have clear written policies specifying that internet access is provided for business purposes and stating what, if any, level of personal use is permitted.
A written policy should state what is considered inappropriate personal use and should also warn that an employee’s internet usage will be monitored for certain specific purposes.
IT professionals have a responsibility to check whether staff are using their PC at work for online diaries. They may need to liaise with HR professionals about what content they should be looking for in this respect.
Of course, it might be possible to devise software to block access to blogs, but this is not always appropriate where a degree of personal internet use is allowed. The ideal situation is to pick up online diaries that are openly critical of the employer, but it will be much more difficult to write software to deal with that, given the many forms such criticism might take.
Typically, IT staff should monitor what information passes through the company server and should assist with the technological aspects of any investigation into a breach of internet policies.
Other aspects of the investigation will often be managed by the HR department, as will any subsequent disciplinary process.
The IT and HR team should plan a joint strategy for dealing with the use of online diaries. Each department needs to be clear who is responsible for what. In this way, any potential problems can be dealt with clearly.
Nick Chronias is a partner in the national employment practice at law firm Beachcroft Wansbroughs