The Daily Telegraph pulls employee blog - tips for employers

December 1, 2007

As a champion of free speech, The Daily Telegraph performed an impressive volte face when it pulled a blog by its US editor after his confession to writing a news story about Saddam Hussein's hanging before the event had actually taken place. The perils of blogging for employers were once again exposed as The Daily Telegraph became embroiled in an online bun fight with bloggers much to the amusement of The Daily Telegraph’s competitors.

WHAT IS BLOGGING?

With 57 million weblogs already in existence and new blogs being created at a rate of 100,000 per day, blogging is part of mainstream society. The chances are a number of your employees are operating blogs. Traditionally, blogs functioned as online diaries but are now used in all manner of ways including providing topical commentary or news. One of the attractions of blogging is that the author can create an online alter-ego. This new online personality encourages the author to communicate more freely and, perhaps, say things that one wouldn’t say in the real world. Therein lies the principle risk for employers; an employee saying something that he or she shouldn’t.
With work forming such a major part of a person’s life, it is safe to assume that the subject of work and fellow employees will eventually surface in a blog. This can result in adverse implications for employers; negative publicity, vicarious liability to staff, interference with work and the disclosure of confidential information.

BLOGGERS BEWARE

This was highlighted in the Waterstones case which was the first example of an employee blogger being sacked in the UK. In that case the employee kept an online diary in which he occasionally mentioned bad days at work and satirised his "sandal-wearing" boss. The employee was dismissed without warning for "gross misconduct" and "bringing the company into disrepute" through the comments he posted on his blog. The ensuing row reached the National press with commentators accusing Waterstones of hypocrisy given that the company advertised itself as a bastion of freedom of speech. After the public outcry and boycotting of the particular store by some customers, the employee was offered re-instatement but the damage to Waterstones image had already been done.

One of the criticisms labelled at Waterstones was that it carried out the dismissal despite it not having any guidelines on whether its employees are allowed to keep weblogs. This was not an issue for The Daily Telegraph although there seems to have been a failure to set clear guidelines on what should or should not be in a blog. One theme that that runs through these two cases is how badly the situation was handled once it became an issue. Both incidents only reached the National press because of the heavy handed way in which Waterstones and The Daily Telegraph dealt with the incidents.

What is obvious is that employers need to have clear guidelines on blogging that not only covers whether blogging is permissible and in what circumstances but also outlines the policy for blogs that breach the guidelines.

SO WHAT SHOULD EMPLOYERS DO?

It is difficult for employers to stop their employees blogging so develop guidelines as to what an employee can or cannot say. For example, can employee bloggers mention his employer or other staff. Employers not only want to protect their reputation but also their staff from inappropriate comments. Consider what action should be taken if an employee breaches the guidelines and distil this into a formal policy. For example, if an employee makes an obscene comment about another employee, you may want the right to be able to require the employee to take down the offending blog. An employer may also want to spell out the disciplinary process for a breach of the guidelines.

These guidelines and policies could form part of the staff handbook or the IT and communications policy. Alternatively, some employers are implementing specific blogging policies to set out parameters in which employees can refer to their work-life in their blogs. The introduction of new policies or changes to existing policies needs to be clearly communicated to staff.

A word of caution though; any guidelines or blogs need to strike a balance between the employee’s right to privacy and free expression and the legitimate interests of the employer to protect its business and staff. Getting the balance right can be a tricky exercise. What is clear though is that doing nothing is not an option. If one looks at today’s teenagers (who will make up the workforce of tomorrow), it is clear that blogging is here to stay.


Related pages:

Employment issues more

Experts on the human side of enterprise more

Technology, Media & Digital more

icons Addthis Print Contact Register

Contact

tel: +44 (0) 20 7628 2000
10 Finsbury Square, London, EC2A 1AF
View map

Accreditations

  • Top Ranked Chambers UK 2014 - Leading Firm
  • Ranked in Chambers Europe 2013 - Leading Individual
  • Ranked in Chambers Global 2014 - Leading Firm
  • Legal 500 - Leading Firm
  • The Lawyer UK 200 - Listed Firm
  • The Law Society Excellence Awards 2012 - Shortlisted
  • Investors in People - Bronze