Silicon Valley, CA/ February 23, 2005 -- Workers using Internet blogs and podcasts to talk about their employers are increasingly at risk of being fired, and their companies are more vulnerable to having confidential information leaked, according to Littler Mendelson, the nation's largest labor and employment law firm.
Few companies have written policies which include references to employees' Web logs known as blogs and recordings called podcasts, but that does not prevent employees from being terminated for telling the Internet world what is on their minds – or in company files – according to Littler attorneys.
Recent firings of Google and Delta Airlines employees who operated blogs have cast the spotlight on this latest Web trend and its thorny legal issues.
"Employees can have a false sense of security, when it comes to postings," said Christopher E. Cobey, senior counsel in Littler Mendelson's San Jose office. "They mistakenly believe that if they shroud the blog or podcast with anonymity, they are immune from consequences. However, in most states, employment is at-will, meaning employers can fire an employee without cause. Learning that an employee is disloyal to the company may be all an employer will require to exercise its option to terminate the person."
Cobey suggests companies incorporate blogging and podcasting policies into their existing guidelines on confidential information, trade secrets and use of company electronic resources.
For the estimated eight million Americans writing blogs and their employers, Cobey offers the following advice:
- Bloggers using company time or computers to update their sites may be in violation of company policy.
- Blogging at home about one's employer, even on personal time, can in some circumstances result in termination.
- Employers may be able to discipline employees for negative public expressions related to the company's business or reputation.
- The National Labor Relations Act offers bloggers some protection in their online expressions, if they discuss their wages or working conditions.
- Government employees and those hired under collective bargaining agreements may have additional legal rights unavailable to at-will employees.
If an employer is discontented with an employee's blog, the employee's removal of the inappropriate content or the entire site may not remedy the harm. As soon as the information is made public by Internet posting, the content can be copied and posted on to other sites without the original writer's knowledge or permission. "Once the cat is out of the bag, it's hard to unring the bell," Cobey quipped.
With more than 400 attorneys and 28 offices in major metropolitan areas nationwide, Littler Mendelson is the largest law firm in the United States devoted exclusively to representing management in employment, employee benefits and labor law matters. The firm's client base ranges from Fortune 500 companies to small-business owners. Established in 1942, the firm has litigated, mediated and negotiated some of the most influential cases and labor contracts in the nation's history. Its affiliated global migration practice, Littler Mendelson Bacon & Dear, provides support to major companies in moving employees around the world. For more information, visit www.littler.com.