Posted on 2nd April 2007

Employers warned to beware of staff internet blogging

Nick Poole, partner at Darlington law firm Latimer Hinks, is warning employers to update their policies to cover internet blogging following a judgement made in a Paris employment tribunal that could have repercussions in the UK. English secretary Catherine Sanderson, who worked for accountancy firm Dixon Wilson, was sacked when her Paris-based employer objected to her blog. She was later awarded 30,000 for unfair dismissal. Catherines La Petite Anglaise internet diary recorded her thoughts on her personal and professional life, although her employers name was never mentioned. She also remained anonymous but her photograph was featured. At the tribunal, Sanderson claimed she was sacked for gross misconduct because her blog risked bringing the company into disrepute and she was also accused of using office time to write her blog. However, the tribunal concluded that she had been dismissed without real and serious causes and ordered her employer to pay the compensation. Nick Poole said: Employee blogs, and the information they contain, is a growing issue for businesses. More and more organisations are hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons following employee blogs, which can be accessed by anyone. To help limit the damage, employers should ensure that their email and internet acceptable use policy covers using company time to access personal blogs, as well as informing staff of the dangers of visiting non work-related websites. A bringing the company into disrepute provision in a contract, which is often used to cover violent behaviour or substance abuse, could also be deployed to cover blogging. However, on a cautionary note, these tactics also raise the issue of how far an employer can dictate what an employee does in their private life. It is one thing to regulate employee activities during working hours but the issues become less clear when the actions take place out of working hours. Employers who are able to show that they have suffered loss as a consequence of an employee posting information on a blog will be in a stronger position to justify dismissal than those who are not.