Employer Strategies to Respond to “Cybersmears”, Part-2

Posted by in Management | Comments Off on Employer Strategies to Respond to “Cybersmears”, Part-2

As if there wasn’t enough confusion about addressing employees’ personal use of e-mail and the Internet, employers are faced with an even more complicated technology challenge: the cypersmear. This is defined as employees’ unidentified online postings of libelous, harassing or humiliating comments about their employer or co-workers. The purpose of such postings may also be to reveal company secrets. Cypersmearing is serious; but it’s important to remember that it doesn’t include anonymous online criticism. It may be unwarranted, but criticism, even of an employer, is generally protected by free-speech rights.

If an employee has posted an obvious cypersmear, then the employer has every right to fire him or her; however, it is probably not possible to identify the cypersmearer easily. Since, in many cases, these anonymous rants are mean to provoke response, employers should take a deep breath, consult with their attorneys and consider a number of strategies before taking action. The contents and context of the postings and the current rulings of the courts in cases of this kind will determine exactly how employers should respond. Employers must be prepared to implement a three-stage strategy: first, be proactive to reduce or eliminate any cypersmearing before it occurs; second, if a cypersmear has been posted, then how to alleviate any damages it may cause; and third, use the law to protect the company and determine the identity of the cypersmearer and discipline him or her, accordingly.

The first stage (and the wisest and least-stressful method) is to develop a cypersmear policy and add it to the employee handbook section on technology use. The policy should be very clear and comprehensive, including the penalties that could be incurred. Implementing a required training session is also a good idea. The company attorney can explain such issues as employee privacy, free-speech rights, libel, etc. and provide cypersmear blog-posting examples. Of course, all new employees must also take this training and understand the company’s cypersmear policy.

Read the next scheduled news posting for the second-stage strategy to combat cypersmearing.

Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.