May 21, 2008

Employee's Blog Activity Leads to Firings at Burger King

istock_000005622818xsmall.jpgThere are plenty of stories about employers firing employees for criticizing the workplace on their personal blogs. Then there are the tales of employee blogs getting companies into hot water by revealing confidential company information, or criticizing third parties. But a recent blog saga has an interesting twist: a Burger King executive used his middle school-aged daughter's online identity to attack a farmworkers' advocacy group that was trying to increase pay and improve conditions for tomato pickers. (In another dramatic turn, Burger King also allegedly hired a private investigator who tried to infiltrate the organization.) Though Burger King declined to name the employee, other reports claim that it was Vice President Steven Grover (who, according to a company telephone operator, no longer works at Burger King). Dealing with employee blogs is a delicate thing. On the one hand, you don't want to overstep legal limits on regulating off-duty conduct; on the other, you do want to keep company secrets. Companies like Dell, IBM, and Cisco require their blogging employees to disclose their identities and company affiliation when blogging about company-related issues. And many companies require bloggers to make clear that their views are their own, not those of the company. I doubt Burger King had such a policy, but in this case, you'd also doubt that the employee would have followed it anyway. After all, any company executive who will assume his pre-teen's identity (did he really expect to go undetected?) to make disparaging remarks has questionable business acumen. The law related to blogs may be complicated, but it's not that complicated. Of course, that's my view, not necessarily that of my employer.

For help in creating and executing the best technology policy for your workplace, see Smart Policies for Workplace Technologies, by Lisa Guerin (Nolo).

Alayna Schroeder