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Vail Daily column: Web 2.0 in the workplace

Michael Brownlee

I had never actually heard the term “Web 2.0” until an employment lawyer I know introduced me to it.

Wikipedia defines Web 2.0 as a “site (that) allows its users to interact with other users or to change website content, in contrast to non-interactive websites where users are limited to the passive viewing of information that is provided to them.”

As my friend explained it to me, a Web 2.0 site is one that derives its content primarily from its users.

In fact, Wikipedia is an excellent example of a Web 2.0 at work. In the employment context, Web 2.0 sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest make public private information that would otherwise not be available to an employer.

Can you get fired for information you post on the Web? The answer is a definitive “yes.”

I am reminded of the Delta flight attendant who anonymously blogged about her travels a few years ago.

She was fired for eventually posting a picture of herself in an empty plane despite the fact that there was nothing in the picture that could identify her as a Delta employee.

More recently, the escapades of one Carlos Danger (aka Anthony Weiner) demonstrate the direct link between an individual’s actions in both the virtual and real worlds.

What does that mean for employers? There is an argument an employer could be liable for negligent hiring because they didn’t look into a new employee’s Web 2.0 content.

For example, let us assume that someone owns a delivery company, and wants to hire a famous truck driver named “No Brakes” Bert.

When the company does its standard criminal background check on Bert, they find nothing that would indicate that it would be negligent to entrust him with a company truck.

Based on the background check, the company hires Bert to operate a company vehicle.

Fast forward six months and the delivery company is being sued for negligent entrustment after Bert (with a BAC of .16) slammed the company truck into a circus tent.

At trial, the jury learns that Bert had started a blog titled “The drunken bandit” one year before being hired by the company, which chronicled his passion for drinking and driving, and his numerous years of near misses with the authorities.

In this example, the delivery company could be liable for massive damages based on their failure to properly investigate a new employee before “entrusting” them with a company vehicle.

Regardless of the outcome, it should make you think about what you and your employees are posting and what is being posted about you, your employee and your company.

The bottom line is that all business owners should consider a policy that addresses employees’ use of company computers for emails, Internet and Web 2.0.

Michael Brownlee is a partner with Thompson, Brownlee and Voboril LLC, a local civil litigation firm. For more information, contact Mr. Brownlee at 970-455-4226, michael@thompsonbrownlee.com, or visit http://www.thompsonbrownlee.com.


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