The internet can be an excellent resource if used appropriately, in the right circumstances and with the right checks and balances. Internet trends such as blogging are on the increase and it is important employers understand these trends and manage them correctly.

For some companies, such as marketing, design or technology companies, it may be essential that their employees do have access to these sites, as it can be beneficial to their business to use and understand them. For others, social networking sites have no commercial benefits and simply represent an opportunity for employees to waste time and be diverted from the duties of their roles.

A blog is a user-generated website where entries are written by an individual. They can contain commentary, reviews, observations, updates and so on and can include text, photos, videos and links to other websites. Other readers can leave comments on the blog. They are updated regularly by the user in the style of a journal and are posted in reverse chronological order, so the most recent entry comes first.

Blogging can be commercially beneficial in some situations. For example, it can attract potential recruits and clients to a company, encourage collaboration and interaction between employees and serve as an inexpensive marketing tool. However many organisations rightly fear that allowing their employees too much freedom when it comes to blogging can represent a commercial time bomb in terms of time wasting, defamation, copyright infringements or damage to corporate reputation.

The key as always is to establish clear policies and ensure your employees understand your standards on blogging, as with other social networking activities.

Generally speaking unless your employees need to be on social networking sites for their work, then when actually ‘on the clock’ they are being paid to work. ‘During the working day’ is a little more complicated as this will include times when your staff have time to themselves, such as during breaks or at lunch time.  As this is technically their free time you cannot dictate their actions, but you can restrict their use of company resources.

Your IT systems are a business tool and your IT policy should set out what your staff members can use the equipment for and the times at which they can do so.  Your first port of call, therefore, needs to be to review your policy and check what it says about internet use.  You then need to look at the times during which your staff are accessing these sites to determine the nature of the problem.  Your staff have an obligation to devote their time and energy at work to the needs of your business.  If they are accessing social networking sites when they should be working, then they are in breach of this duty and this is a disciplinary matter.

You cannot control what your staff write on their own web space outside of work time and normally any actions by your staff outside of work, you have no say in.  However, you can remind all staff that they have an obligation not to bring the company into disrepute and any comments that are posted in the public domain are subject to this obligation.  Make it clear in your updated IT policy that any negative comments made in the public domain about the company will be subject to the disciplinary procedure.  You must be clear about your definition of “negative” and you cannot define this too broadly.  Inform your staff that in addition to disciplinary action, any derogatory comments posted in the public domain can be subject to libel action in the County Court