What Should We Do About an Employee's Outrageous Blog?

Blog--angry reaction toDear Rita,

An employee googled our nonprofit's name and came across a coworker's blog. The blog contains some outrageous material, including some unflattering comments about working at our organization. What can our nonprofit do?
-- Blog-Burned


Dear Blog-Burned:

It seems like just 10 years ago most workplace gossip was confined to clandestine meetings in the break room. Once uttered, it vanished like the last donut. Not so today. Now the blogosphere captures those rants and raves for all to read in perpetuity.

The best way to deal with a problem like this is to prevent or discourage it by establishing a blogging policy for all employees.The second best course of action may be to ignore the blog. But if there is some detriment to your agency, ask the employee to remove the offending material -- after confirming the blog is not legally protected speech. If the content is discriminatory or harassing, treat the blog as workplace conduct and initiate appropriate remedial action. A New Jersey court held that Continental Airlines had a duty to stop the harassment of a female pilot contained on a coworker's personal blog. Lastly, determine if any discipline is appropriate given the content of the speech and the employee's response to your request to take the content off the blog.

To evaluate what can be done to stop the unflattering blogging you must consider the content of the speech and the law of your state.

Employee blogging could be deemed protected speech under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) or whistleblower laws. The NLRA allows employees to discuss the terms and conditions of employment with the purpose of engaging in collective action to change them. Whistleblower laws in some states protect employees from retaliation if they report illegal or unethical behavior to government officials or agency management.

Additionally, some states have laws prohibiting an employer from disciplining an employee for participating in "legal recreational activities outside of work hours" unless that activity creates "a material conflict of interest related to the employer's business interest." While many of these state laws have yet to be used to protect the right to blog, they could be applied here. To determine what law is applicable in your state look to your local chamber of commerce or nonprofit association for state employment laws concerning "privacy" or "off duty conduct."

Comments (20)

  • I suggest that somebody should point out to the disgruntled employee that her/his statements on the blog will likely hurt her/him more than it hurts the organization. For example, if that person were to look for a job someplace else, that critical blog could be found by the prospective employer. Who is going to want to hire a whiney, critcal, complainer?A few years ago I interviewed a man to hire from another department in the same company. He seemed to have the job prerequisites and good references. His performance appraisals from his current job were "pretty good" (not stellar, but above average) However, his personnel file contained a letter written by him as a comment to his last performance appraisal. His letter attacked his boss for favoritism and he attacked his peers for incompetence and laziness. If he had not written that letter I probably would have hired him, but I certainly didn't want somebody with that attitude on my team.

    May 01, 2008
  • You passed up someone who was perfectly qualified and had good references and already knew the organization?!
    I would suggest that that's just stupid and typical of how bad managers miss out on securing good talent and creating a high performance environment.
    To penalize an employee for having the courage to express grievances and concerns not only fails to fix the problem, it legitimizes their complaint and deprives your organization of an environment where people can trust that their concerns are taken seriously and not used as a cudgel against them...a perfect recipe for low morale and high turnover.
    People don't come to work because they want to be unhappy or disgruntled. Generally, people BECOME disgruntled because they've been treated unfairly or perceive that they've been treated unfairly.
    I would submit that the wrong question is being asked.
    Don't ask what you can do about someone who's blogging negatively about you. If you get someone to the point that they want to take the energy to blog about what a terrible employer you were, odds are you probably did something to deserve it. "First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

    Jan 22, 2009
  • I have to say I agree with ANONYMOUS. First of all, you state that you should treat it as workplace conduct and act accordingly. That could be grounds for a cause of action for the employee who is NOT at work, and is either AT HOME or on PERSONAL time.
    Obviously, if the disgruntled employee is blogging about the company, and the facts are true, how can you complain as the employer?
    If the facts are false, that is a different story. Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts.

    Jun 18, 2009
  • It seems that the emphasis, rather than being placed on the medium of communication, should be placed on the content of the message and the reasons for it. Evaluating the employee's performance, discussing his goals, and reaching an understanding about the source of the frustration are all much better avenues to pursue than trying to figure out whether you're squashing someone's right to express themselves. In the best-case scenario, you can reach accord with your staffer, and he might take the offending posts down all on his own, or better still, blog about how much his organization and manager care about his well-being.

    May 02, 2008
  • In addition to the above excellent comments, I would want to evaluate the validity of the comments made on the blog. Perhaps this unfortunate way of expressing dissatisfaction is masking the existence of a real problem. A conversation with the employee about the underlying content could lead to solving some real problems in the organization and an employee who feels more valued.

    Jackie

    http://womendrummers.org

    May 02, 2008
  • While I think a blogging policy is a good idea, I would be reluctant to tell a person they can't blog, which some corporations have tried.

    A blogger would be smart to either not write about work issues, or at least have the good sense to do it anonymously. Nadine Habosh found that out the hard way when she was fired from her job in the NY fashion industry because she blogged about her work.

    When I started my Laughing Stalk blog a few years ago, and even when I started my humor writing venture 14 years ago, I made it a rule to never blog or write about my employer.

    Former employers are a completely different matter though.


    Erik Deckers
    Indianapolis, IN

    May 02, 2008
  • I believe any thinking current employer would see red flags if it was evident that his employee's former employees were fair game on blogs.

    May 03, 2008
  • Our organization has an agreement that is signed by each new employee. The document acknowledges the employee's rights to conduct their life outside work as they see fit, but also the employee's agreement that they will not engage in activity that would put the organization in a bad light or be detrimental to the organization in any way and further states that employees agree to conduct themselves in a professional manner when attending any functions on behalf of the organization... Bashing your company in a blog would be in contravention of any such agreement I think.

    May 05, 2008
  • We have a good, albeit new policy at my company that addresses blogging, but given the relative newness of this Internet feature, companies will be revising their blogging policies often in the near future. But the operative word here is policy. Organizations should definitely have a blogging policy. At a minimum it should prohibit derogatory comments that could be damaging to the organization’s name and reputation, and it definitely MUST protect the confidentiality of the organization’s data, its trademarks and copyrights, its customers, contractors and vendors, and the privacy of fellow employees. And almost without saying, in today’s world of heightened security awareness, comments about an organization’s facilities and security should never be posted.

    While you cannot block employees’ freedom of speech by preventing them from posting harmless comments on blogs (such as we are doing in this hopefully innocent chronicle), you should mandate that such comments never be made from the organization’s computers. Computers themselves leave dusty trails of IP addresses and other forms of identification, and company computers should be used primarily for work, save for an occasional personal web click here or there.

    I also echo comments posted above about the imprudence of certain blogging. Recently I was asked to speak on this topic and I refer Blue Avocado readers to a short article I penned on Ezine on the seriousness of today’s Internet use. Parents – speak to your teenagers. Inappropriate blogging habits today could ruin job opportunities tomorrow.

    http://ezinearticles.com/?Changing-Jobs---Internet-Imprudence-Can-Ruin-Y...

    May 13, 2008
  • Anonymous

    Our organization has an agreement that is signed by each new employee. The document acknowledges the employee's rights to conduct their life outside work as they see fit, but also the employee's agreement that they will not engage in activity that would put the organization in a bad light or be detrimental to the organization in any way and further states that employees agree to conduct themselves in a professional manner when attending any functions on behalf of the organization. While I think a blogging policy is a good idea, I would be reluctant to tell a person they can't blog, which some corporations have tried. In addition to the above excellent comments, I would want to evaluate the validity of the comments made on the blog. Perhaps this unfortunate way of expressing dissatisfaction is masking the existence of a real problem. Evaluating the employee's performance, discussing his goals, and reaching an understanding about the source of the frustration are all much better avenues to pursue than trying to figure out whether you're squashing someone's right to express themselves.
    team building consultants

    Mar 22, 2009
  • It's just a matter of time until all the major businesses will include a special clause in the employment agreement, a clause called "No trashing the workplace in your personal blog."

    May 15, 2009
  • Anonymous has approached the subject in the most proactive and innovative manner. This is the way we must approach all our dealings with employees, volunteers and each other.

    Jun 29, 2009
  • I think people should be able to express their feelings (on paper, blog or whatever). If what they're saying is not true they can always be sued and stuff but if what they're saying is true well why not let them tell the truth ? because it bothers ?

    Aug 05, 2009
  • Anonymous

    I tend to agree. The first concern when an employee is trashing their company or organization in their blog should be why there is something trash-able in the first place. Sure, agreements not to make the company look bad can be a good idea, but ultimately the onus is on the organization to make sure employees want to shout from the rooftops how great their employers are!

    Feb 02, 2010
  • Thank you very much for this useful article.

    Dec 01, 2009
  • Anonymous

    The document recognizes the rights of the employee to make your life outside of work as they see fit, but also the employee's agreement that they will not engage in activity that would put the organization in a bad light or be detrimental to the organization in any way and states that employees agree to act in a professional manner when attending any functions on behalf of the organization andy

    Mar 01, 2010
  • Anonymous

    Thank you so very much for this very insightful article!

    Apr 21, 2010
  • Anonymous

    Great blog and good questions! Thank you very much for this useful article and the comments.

    Apr 20, 2010
  • The actual point is you can't do anything. Its freedom of speech and they have right to write whatever they like , but in case he is making up things about you and writing lies on blog than you can get him on court for making bad mouthing you. Best regards

    Jun 20, 2012
  • Anonymous

    Good points, May be we can't do anything, but I think we can try to make a good relationship with the employees and we can do a lot of things... From: California labor law posters

    Oct 24, 2012

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