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Description: Most everybody posts online these days. But in an age of conspicuous opinionation, how does an employer know when an employee has crossed the line?

Source: Globe & Mail.com

Date: Jan 31, 2011

The boundaries between work life and home life are dissolving, just as the difference between public and private communication is becoming fuzzier than ever.

This new reality poses a quandary for employers: On the one hand, free speech is free speech, and the ability to speak in the online medium is a right that few employees want to see circumscribed. On the other, employees act as de facto ambassadors for their company in cyberspace, whether they mean to or not. What can employers do to protect their brand online, and where is the line between free speech and troublesome text?   Read rest of story

Questions for discussion:

  • How does an employer know when an employee has crossed the line in online communication?
  • What can employers do to protect their brand online, and where is the line between free speech and troublesome text?
  • What can a business do when offending material turns up online that impacts a business?

21 Responses to “When employees cross the line online”

  1. Kendra Warne

    People are taking the need to say everything they’re thinking on-line way to far. As a university student I am STRONGLY encouraged to refrain from behavior such as talking badly about previous/current bosses or co-workers on-line. When I go to apply for a job (at any point in time, but in particular after graduation) my Facebook wall is something that my future employer can look at.

    Not only when looking for jobs do we need to watch what we express and post on-line, but when employed we cannot/should not go blabbing about what is going on at work, or gossiping about people they work with. If that happens… Really? Are we back in high school? Once we turn 18 we are considered adults, why can’t we act like adults? Not only do I find badmouthing via the internet immature, but it is also unprofessional.

    Maybe punishments associated with online banter wouldn’t be seen as against our rights if there were some policies put in place. These could outline what can and can’t be punished with regards to what is put on the internet. Where to draw the line is hazy, but something needs to be done.

  2. Clayton Varjassy

    I can’t stand when people want to broadcast every concern or thought they have with a status update on facebook or twitter to their hundreds of followers or friends. The majority of people don’t need to know how crappy you think your boss was today, or how much you hate so and so. I am happy to say that the majority of people don’t abuse this, but there are always a few that feel the need to broadcast everything. If people want to slander the company they work for then they should no longer be employee with that company. It’s tough to say when an employee has gone too far, but if they’re directly slandering the company or fellow employees publicly to their hundreds of friends, I do believe that is over the line. I think what a company needs to do is look at the root of the problem, if the disgruntled employee is rightfully angry, perhaps they aren’t the ones in the wrong. If that’s not apparent (which is often the case with people that feel the need to broadcast this information), then I believe termination or discipline is necessary.

  3. Derek Wilson

    It seems like more and more people are posing online and “friend-ing” people they know at work. If something negative about the workplace was posted, it would be easy for a co-worker to follow a twitter account or a facebook page and easily find these posts. I believe that the easiest thing to do to prevent these kinds of things from happening would be on going education. If you sit down and tell them what’s inappropriate and get them to sign off on their training and refresh ever few months, then I see fewer problems occurring in the future. In most cases I am sure it is just a matter of saying that it is not appropriate for someone to understand and not do it. The line between free speech and troublesome text comes when the company is being slandered. It is one thing to say “I had a bad day at work” and another to attack the company. If offending material pops up then the employee should get a warning and if it does not stop, then more serious action such as suspension should take place.

  4. Landon

    I think the line is crossed when, like it mentioned in the article, what is said directly affects the business. This includes bad mouthing fellow co-workers or superiors, to mentioning company info, and violating client confidentiality. In order to cross a line though, there has to be a line drawn out for employees because if there isn’t a line then how can an employee know beforehand if they are crossing it. I agree with what is said in the article, there has to be orientation for employees on this topic, they have to be told what is expected of them and what can and can’t be said. This must be done right from the start when employees first start, during their employee orientation, this is part of the preventive measures. The expectations of respect for one another must be part of the organizational culture and instilled in each and every employee. Another way to try to prevent such venting from employees is to have a company blog especially for them to write about any grievances they may have with the company, then the company can deal with them as they come. The knowledge that there is a safe medium that the employees voices can be heard may prevent such outbursts from occurring outside the workplace, knowing management will see this company blog may help employees with their problems. Management could also have an open door policy, if you have a problem then come and see me, don’t go behind my back and talk crap about me or your company this is not high school. Come to me like a grown up! I would be more than happy to sit down with you and help you with any of your problems.

    It depends on the material posted, if it is offensive, and takes a direct stab at an individual then it should be dealt with accordingly. Then they need to be sat down and told explicitly what is expected of them, what they did was wrong and if it happens again it may lead to termination if termination wasn’t the first step. I think the most important thing for this topic is prevention, you have to prevent this from happening in the first place through orientation, not just sign this policy, no we are going to sit down and management needs to go through what is expected of employees, what they shouldn’t say and what the consequences are if they go too far. People also need to use their heads, if you aren’t going to say it to someones face then don’t blog about it, because sooner or later it is going to come.

  5. Simar Duggal

    The question that can be asked to know of an employee has crossed the line, online is mainly ‘if it has impacted the business’. I personally don’t enjoy reading about people’s personal troubles every 5-10 minutes on my facebook feed, these troubles at work I think should be solved at work, if your upset with your employer its best to talk to them then to display to your 3-4 hundred friends you don’t like them. I sometimes feel that employers and employees should be more aware of problems then friends on facebook. The usage of destruction of companies online has because unethical to me, I feel as there should be some discretion advised if the company’s product or service is not good, but personal attacks should not be advertised. The impact of a bad comment is sometimes more of an impact then a good one, and I have seen good companies being bad talked just for personal reasons when in fact the product and service is great.

  6. Dustin

    I think you draw the line where if the employee writes or tweets something that would not have been said to their employer personally. According to the article there is no difference is saying it face to face or writing it on a blog, twitter or facebook. Some might even take more offense if they see something written down versus having the employee coming and telling them face to face. I think its become a way for people to vent and express them selves to everyone publicly versus the old fashion way of settling a problem privately with one individual. Thus we see some people becoming more and more secluded, by just typing their problems instead of settling them.
    Don’t hire people who post immature posts. If they do, fire them. If they are going to act like children they probably do not deserve to work there.
    Bring the person in and question them. If they agree that they don’t like their job, boss, companion, group, or whatever their complaint is about, then some changes or discontinuance of their services might be in order.

  7. Jenn Oloya

    An employer knows that an employee has crossed the line online when it negatively affects the atmosphere of the workplace. Employees should think of the internet as a workplace doesn’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want to have spread around the physical workplace. What employees could do to protect their brand is to have it in their contracts that employees signed that states that an employee cannot have negative comments about the company or any employees of the company online while they are working for the company, if the company doesn’t have any guidelines about an issue such as this it could easily turn into a harassment case for the company and the consequences could be more detrimental. The line between free speech and troublesome text starts when a person can be strongly hurt my text, its lies, and gives the employee or the company a bad reputation. This is not a question of free speech it’s about respect for the people and company that you work for, as the saying goes don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

  8. Bretton MacDonald

    Blogging can be a very informative way of communicating ones thoughts to the world. I myself love reading blogs about a few select topics such as sports and numerous other things. Having said that though people need to stop posting every little detail about their life. Whether its facebook, twitter, or any other social networking site or blog i see people expressing every thought they have every minute. I know its really none of my business but people are just overdoing this social network craze. Ill be the first to admit that i use these websites to follow people and keep in touch with my friends but i hate when my feed is getting bunched up with a select few people broadcasting every little thing that happens to me. And this brings me to my next point….a lot of people post things that are not exactly appropriate. Whether it be about your family or boss its just not the place to display your feelings. Complainging about bosses, co-workers and even employees should be dealt with within the HR department or firm and should never be displayed on these social networking sites.

  9. Momah Moseri

    We all have freedom of speech and we can all talk at will. However, employees going online to say things that will have a negative effect on the organization have definitely crossed the line. I just think that it’s unethical for an employee of an organization to go outside (online) and ruin the name and reputation of the company you work for because you’re upset. There is so much an employer can do to stop this thing from happening because they cannot control what their employees say outside the work premises. Employers could have employee training telling them (employees) about the importance of not ruining the company’s reputation online or the consequences of ruining the reputation of the company online. Also employers could create a team that would help them counter any slandering comment about the company online. When a company sees an offending material about their company online, they should get to the root of it. See who and who were behind it before they take any further actions

  10. Katie

    I think there is definitely a line being crossed with employees between their personal and work lives. People are taking their ‘tweets’ and status updates too far when it comes to twitter and facebook and other social mediums. As an employee, you represent the company you work for and have a responsibility to act accordingly. You never know how things come across to other people or who is seeing what, so it is best not to say anything at all. Such comments and thoughts should be kept private. It is important that employers make sure their employees know what the expectations are and what would be considered pushing things too far. It would be a complicated line to define and it can’t be all black and white. But there does need to be certain policies put into place. Free speech is important and employees sometimes need that outlet to vent when things get frustrating, but online for the whole world to see isn’t the place.

  11. alex.hedges

    Employees must know from the start of their employment that questionable online communication must be avoided for the benefit of the company as a whole. This must be embedded in the culture of the company instead of using the fear of being caught approach; this will lower the amount of detrimental online employee communication.
    A few decades ago the issue of employee online communication being detrimental to a company was not an issue. Social websites were less technologically advanced and less popular, so employers did not have to worry. Then when more people were exposed to such websites, they were viewed as strictly part of personal/social life. But this is not the case anymore; today it is no secret that pretty much anyone has access to what you are saying online.
    In today’s new world, this issue needs to be addressed more directly. Employers need to let it be known that they are aware of the endless ways to express personal opinions online and must strive to create a culture that creates 1. a positive image to employees and 2. the desire for employees to personally up-hold that image. A strong culture of will be more influential than increased punishment.

  12. Rio P

    I think an employer knows that an employee has crossed the line when the opinion of the employee has changed dramatically or the text is found offensive by other employees or by the boss. It is going to depend individually on each employer however I feel that employees who vent online are looking for others means of attention other than stress relieving. Thinking that the internet is private from an employer is a mis-conception that many employees carry into the workforce and if an employee does have a problem, don’t make it public. Now, there is the argument that it is free speech and we have the right to “vent” our problems online, however as said before, if a person has to vent online then they obviously don’t belong in their current position. Some businesses may suffer if offending material is discovered online, and therefore I think that businesses need to change to this environment of social networking and constant communication. Developing policies that outline what expectations are and the consequences that one will suffer if they rules are broken will help create an atmosphere where venting online is not appropriate.

  13. Todd McCune

    An employer will know when their employee has crossed the line when something has been posted via Twitter, facebook, blogging etc. when they say something that affects employee moral, confidential information of the company, or takes personal matters too far that affect the workplace. Employers can protect their business online by holding periodic seminars in online etiquette. They need to have guidelines of what is right and wrong when it comes to social networking online involving their work. They should have their employees sign some type of agreement that sets a guideline of what is appropriate and inappropriate to say online concerning the workplace. Freedom of speech is a given right that should not be abused and using social networking is an immature and unprofessional means of voicing your opinion on your workplace. Business can set up some type of three strike policy to people who cross the line because the first time may be inadvertant but if they offend someone in the workplace several times, action should be taken whether its suspension or firing of the employee.

  14. selenanova759

    I think it is safe to say that too much is too much when it is evident (based on blog comments, views, etc,..) how influential a communication has been, and in varying industries it might be easier to tell exactly where the impact is occuring, whether it be in sales, public opinion, or even in company culture. Gossip is Gossip as has proved to be harmful in many situations since before it started online. i think what many people dont realize is that the audience is not only bigger online, but has no limits (which may actually get people into it for the rush of exhibitionism). it should be fairly easy to note when online gossip (just as direct gossip) turns a workplace environment sour between certain employees. one option for prevention could be stated and explained in the contract such as confidentiality agreements are made for employees regarding trade secrets etc… something that specifies limitations consequences of these activities. after this, if people still just cant seem to control themselves, maybe they should bear the effects.

  15. prab22

    I think that this is a great topic; especially with the popularity of social networks these days. As people we make mistakes and regret things we say or do later on. Unfortunately if you make a mistake on a online post or blog it will be up forever. Social networks within businesses’ are a great way to keep in touch with your coworkers, and set up group meetings. The negative side of social networks in the business environment is the manner of professionalism outside of work. I am 100% sure that every manager has facebook or twitter and checks up on their employees’ personal life and posts. My opinion is you should never bash your company or boss online, unless you want to get fired. Future managers check up on your profile and posts it may also play a negative role in your business career in getting hired. People should communicate on these social networks just like they do at work, professionally!

  16. Brenda Bicharr

    There is a limit to everything in the internet. Since everyone has access to the internet, there really is not reason for people to heck thier emails of things on work computers except it is urgent. It is safe to say that the probability of making a mistake and sending the wrong message to your Boss for example is very high and so not doing anything on the internet personally avoids that trouble. there has been a recent trend of taking companies to court and using their old deleted emails as evidence against the companies they are suing.
    people who use the Internet online and delete it feeling they have gotten rid of the messages or data really haven’t. from the moment you put up anything on the Internet, you have made it property to everyone who has access to it.
    Sometimes however there are companies which cannot do without the internet browsing in the office. here, sites should be blocked.

  17. Ashleigh

    With all of the social networking sites out there now, people have to be extremely cautious when posting online or even saying anything that could harm them or the business they work for. When employees of a business begin to start to post stuff about the company and/or comments about any of their co-workers, that is when they cross the line. They are putting the company and themselves in jeopardy. Once one person finds out it, and spreads it around it can become a major problem. When offending material turns up online that can impact a business, the business should discuss the issues with the employee that felt the need to expose the problems. Employees need to be aware that anything that is posted on the Internet people can get a hold of and someone out there is going to find what was written and trace it back to them.

  18. Nicole Hendry

    I think an employee has crossed the line when the things they are posting online are hurtful and target another individual(s). I think that lots of people use facebook and twitter as a way to release emotions throughout the day and I think that with the way that technology is moving right now, employers should expect that. Everyone can admit to changing their status to had a bad day at work, school etc. Obiviously employers must weigh the seriousness of the post and how it is affecting the work environment. As it was said in the article, I think that employers should first educate their employees as to what is to be expected of them when posting on line and what is grounds for losig their job. Handing someone a contract to sign is not enough to avoid the negative affects of hurtful post, blogging etc. By education employees it won’t be a huge suprise to them if they get in trouble for something that was posted online. When something offensive is posted online I believe employees should be given a second chance but past that I think harsher punishment such as loss of their job is acceptable.

  19. Jatinder Aulakh

    •How does an employer know when an employee has crossed the line in online communication?
    •What can employers do to protect their brand online, and where is the line between free speech and troublesome text?
    •What can a business do when offending material turns up online that impacts a business?

    An employer knows when an employee has crossed the line in online communication, when they see postingss of the company or posting about another employee on Facebook, twitter, and blogs. Employers should talk to their employees before hiring and set rules about the company. In these rules companies should get employees to sign a contract on how to protect the company reputation from going online. Employees need to be aware that information online is not always private, even if your settings are private. When companies find offending material online that impact their business they should figure out how it got online and who is responsible. After they find out, action should be taken against what the person had done. Online posting have caused many employees to become jobless.

  20. Chelsa

    Generally I believe that people need to be more cognizant of what they say online. It is unethical for workers to say anything negative about coworkers or the company they work for online. The things you write on your Facebook or Twitter are available to the public regardless of your privacy settings. People need to think before they type, just like they need to think before they speak. If there is a serious issue that needs to be brought to someones attention such as faulty equipment etc. take it up with the appropriate personnel. Companies should be able to take action against workers who write uncalled for, inappropriate things online. Especially if it is harassment of a coworker. I believe that any inappropriate or negative comments are grounds for disciplinary action. If you need to vent about your work vent to someone you trust in a private setting somewhere that what you say can’t come back to haunt you. Disciplinary action can be taken depending on the severity of the offending material. I believe that measures including criminal charges and dismissal are possible options when dealing with an issue like this.

  21. Ifeoma Moseri

    As someone who doesn’t believe in communicating through social networking sites. I believe that the internet as a whole is a good invention and very dangerous too. These days when you go for a job interview the employer in most cases tries to run a search online. I have heard instances of people getting turned down for a job because the employer found something not good on their face book page. Like the video watched in class, the employer might necessarily not know immediately but if it so happens that the employee in particular posted or sent an email with words that can get them in trouble then the employers will be aware.It is very difficult to stop employees from going online at work or monitoring emails sent because everyone has freedom of speech.However,i find most companies restrict access to any websites not needed for work purpose. When a business finds offending material online they can either move to issue a cease and desist letter to the employee or try to disassociate themselves from the material in particular. This is great information and is not the kind of topic that is taught at the universities and colleges across the country. What gets posted on the internet is there for who knows how long, but is accessible by recruiters, employers, universities, etc. So, be wise in what you post.

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