Monday, November 30, 2009

Employer blogging policies and "involuntary" management duties

Just to continue the discussion on the post here on Sunday November 8 about employer blogging policies (for personal blogs not part of the job), and especially the possibility of triggering hostile workplace risks:

It seems that employers may need to have some sort of policy even for “matrix managers” – those who “manage” consultants, or for project leaders or team leaders if they are suddenly asked to write performance evaluations. The policies would probably be more “lenient” and allow much longer terms for compliance if the management assignment were not “voluntary” or sought by the employee. At one time, back in 1988, I was made a group leader and then project leader by the manager, without prior consultation. I had one direct report (project leaders there were considered “management”). Another area would be where staffing companies send contractors to clients (almost the business norm in information technology employment these days), and feel that clients (other than, perhaps, public sector clients like state governments) could be driven away if they get curious and look up the contractor online and are distracted by what they find.

Some was of defining the policy could include some combination of these measures: (1) the associate agrees to place everything under privacy controls and exclude from search engines with robots entries (2) the associate agrees only to take up narrow subject matter totally unrelated to work and “non political” (3) the associate is able to get his or her own media perils insurance for blogs (possibly through umbrella coverage), (4) all blogging goes through pre-approval or third party supervision, and (5) (most important) the associate agrees never to mention the fact that he or she blogs at work or in front of clients.

The mandatory insurance idea would deserve note: media perils insurance typically deals with libel and with invasion of privacy (as do some umbrella homeowner’s coverages – a questionable practice), and only sometimes copyright infringement; the risk to an employer of a hostile workplace or discrimination claim seems far afield from the perils insured against. Yet, third party determination that a person’s publishing or online activity is insurable might improve the comfort level of the employer or clients.

There is something very crippling about this sort of thinking, that an individual is required to “indemnify” others against the hypothetical risk that can occur. This sort of question can come up with the “ballot access petitioning” drives conducted by “minor” political parties in many states, or with any other political petition drive or referendum. The party (or political pressure group) will have a fact sheet explaining that the signee’s name and address will not be given out to anyone (a concern that has become bigger in recent years because of widespread identity theft in our society). Yet there is no way to guarantee that the volunteer collecting petition signatures could not violate the trust and misuse the information anyway.

But employers will need to get a grip on what the “best practices” will be for managing this issue, in a world where self-expression – for professional, social and publication purposes – has a new and unbounded topology.

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