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Are Your Employees Still WILBing On Municipal Time?

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Melissa J. Jackson
Foster Swift Municipal Law News
August 2011

Internet use continues to be a hot topic in the workplace, and it seems like there is no end in sight to the discussion. Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter have become commonplace – not only on employees’ personal computers, but also on employers’ computers. Blogging has become a marketing tool for companies – as well as a tool that employees are using to seek revenge against their employers.

In view of this, your municipality should be asking itself these questions:

  1. Should an employer be concerned?
  2. What should a concerned employer do?

The answer to the first question is, in our view, yes. All employers should be concerned. Potential negative consequences of unregulated Internet use by employees include losing employee productivity, damaging the employer’s reputation, and breaching confidentiality. But consider, also, the growing trend for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to become involved in protecting employees. Yes, the NLRB can be a threat to even non-union employers, and MERC often follows the NLRB’s lead.

As to the second question, employers can minimize these risks by letting employees know what is and is not prohibited. The easiest way to inform them is to put a policy in the employee handbook. An effective policy will allow effective monitoring. Such a policy could, for example, inform employees that social media may not be used to harass or discriminate against others. It also serves as a defense to claims of defamation, improper discipline, wrongful termination, and invasion of privacy. Finally, it will help establish consistency and uniformity in enforcement.

Municipal employers should also carefully draft their policies so as to avoid being overly general. For example, a policy that broadly prohibits employees from making disparaging remarks about the municipality or supervisors over the Internet may be too broad. Further refinement is likely warranted, to allow for meaningful enforcement.

So, don’t risk being IBT (In Between Technology) on this issue. Be proactive and, if you have questions about regulating employees’ Internet use at work, please contact Melissa Jackson at (517) 371-8106 or mjackson@fosterswift.com.

 A translation of "WILBing" for the "uninitiated" is Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing