Monitoring Employee Activity On-Line

December 3, 2010, 4:04 PM

Employers rightfully may be a little hesitant now in taking disciplinary action against an employee based on the employees comments made on a social medium. Earlier this month, the National Labor Relations Board issued an unfair labor practice complaint accusing an employer of illegally firing an employee for criticizing her supervisor on her Facebook page. The NLRB issued the complaint against an ambulance service for firing one of its employees for posting negative remarks about her supervisor on her personal Facebook page from her home computer. The Board also complained that the employers blogging and Internet posting policy contained in its employee handbook was too broad.

While that case will not be heard until January 2011, employers rightfully should review their internet posting and blogging policies before then to ensure that they do not too closely mirror the challenged language in the ambulance services employee handbook. However, employers should continue to monitor closely all social media to see just what employees may be saying about the employers. This monitoring can be done in conjunction with monitoring social media and the rest of the Internet for comments made by customers, competitors and suppliers about the employer, its management and staff, and its products.

One very effective, and free, way to do so is to set up a series of Google Alerts. Google Alerts are a no-cost content monitoring system offered by Google that automatically notifies users when new content from news, the web, blogs, video and/or discussion groups matches a set of search terms selected by the user and stored by the Google Alerts service. The notifications can be sent to the user by email, as a web feed, or displayed on the users iGoogle page. Users set the frequency of checks for new results, choosing among once a day, once a week, or as it happens.

Every employer should set up Google Alerts for its corporate and trade names, the names of its executives, directors, and supervisors, and even the name of its products. The only limitation on Google Alerts is that it only provides content from Googles own search engine. There are similar services, however, that permit an employer to monitor other social media services like Twitter, and new services able to search other pockets of the Internet are coming online every week.

Employers also may be wise to appoint an employee or even hire an outside service to handle social media and Internet monitoring. In fact, a virtual assistant, found and engaged through services like Odesk.com and Freelancer.com, may be a more cost efficient way to conduct such monitoring. Even though such an assistant may be located on the other side of the globe, he or she will have the same access to social media and other portions of the information superhighway available to an employee in the United States, more often than not at a lower hourly rate. --Frank A. Edgar Jr.