What are your options when workplace gossip finds its way online?
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?
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.”
About the Author
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