It’s a new year, and it’s time for a new set of business goals and milestones for 2008. One of those goals should include a review of your company’s employee policy manuals to determine whether they advise employees of the consequences of engaging in extracurricluar activities that can harm your company. Personal, out-of-office Internet usage should rank high on the list of potentially harmful activities. In the pre-Web 2.0 past, employees who were frustated after a bad day at the office might have griped about it to a friend, but the discussion was limited and relatively harmless. Today, employees are putting more and more personal information on the web. MySpace, YouTube, Friendster, blogs, and chat room postings, all allow individuals to invite public comment on any topic they choose — including work. These actions leave can permanent “digital footprints” about your employees’ activities.
In fact, “Digital Footprints” is the subject of a study profiled in the Sunday, December 30 issue of The New York Times. In the study, the Pew Internet and American Life Project looked back at 2000, when 82% of respondents were concerned about their personal information being located in the Internet. In contrast, in 2007 60% of respondents expressed no concern about having left personal information online.
In the United States, most employees are employed “at will”, so in most an employee who posts company secrets or negative information online can be terminated regardless of the company’s policy. However, publishing an internet usage policy can inform employees of the risks associated with this issue and deter them from taking action in the first place. In addition, a policy that covers out-of-office activities can provide a basis for termination where a basis is needed.
So check your policies – and have a happy new year!