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October 27, 2020
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Updated On: Nov 25, 2009

   The internet has rapidly become the primary mode for communicating and receiving information in contemporary society. In the last few years, millions of people have connected to websites, blogs, or other instant messaging forums to communicate with, or obtain information from, other users. The benefits of the new medium are obvious.

   But there is a darker side to these technological advancements. The anonymity which internet sites provide creates the opportunity to make statements which are threatening, demeaning, defamatory, or otherwise problematic. The law has been struggling to keep up with these changes, and recent court cases have begun to provide some guidance regarding regulation of these activities.

   In Stengart v. Loving Care Agency, The New Jersey Appellate Division recently concluded that an employer overstepped its bounds by retrieving a former employee's confidential internet communications with her attorney on a company computer. The employer had provided the employee with a laptop computer to help her perform her responsibilities. A handbook distributed by the company informed all employees that the computer was for business only usage, and that any communication made on that computer was the property of the company. The handbook recognized, however, that "occasional personal use is permitted".

   Just prior to being fired, the employee had begun to gather information to support a potential lawsuit against the employer. She shared that information, and other communications, with her attorney over the internet. After she was fired, the employer seized the laptop computer and was able to extract all of the prior communications. It then attempted to use some of the communications against the employee in the subsequent lawsuit.

   The court held that the mere fact that the computer was provided by the employer did not convert every message on the computer into company property. Recognizing that computers today can be utilized to access tax returns, medical records, intimate personal conversations, and other communications in which the employee has a privacy interest, the court concluded employee handbooks must be tailored to protect the legitimate interest of the employer. Moreover, ambiguity in handbook language should be resolved against the employer, since the employee must communicate clearly permissible or impermissible usage.

   As a result, the court concluded the employer did not have the right to obtain or retain the email messages between the former employee and her attorney, even though the communications were conducted on the employer's computer. The court was careful to point out, however, that the employer can certainly terminate an employee for the improper usage of company property. In other words,a company can fire its employee for using work time to conduct private internet activity. Retaining the actual messages that the employee sent, however, is an entirely different matter.

   Obviously, the case raises as many questions as it resolves. For current purposes, however, it is critical that employees understand that an employer can access a company supplied computer, and can learn both the amount of usage, and type of usage in which the employee engages on work time. The employer can also terminate an employee for spending time surfing the web at work. Checking whether the employer has a policy regarding internet usage or any claimed right to the employees email messages is an important step in protecting job security.

   In two other recent cases, the courts have spoken on whether an employee can be terminated for private and personal internet usage which affects the employer's interest or that of its employees.

   In Matter of Smith v. City of Newark, a police officer accessed a blogging website called "Newark Speaks". The officer would log on anonymously and make defamatory statements about superior officers, contending they were thieves, pimps, crooks and other demeaning characterizations. The officer never identified himself, and assumed-mistakenly- that his identity would never be known to the City. To the contrary, Newark officials were monitoring the website, and obtained a Grand jury subpeona to compel the internet provider to disclose the names of the users. Eventually, Newark learned the identity of the officer who was making the anonymous postings. The City then fired the officer. The case went to trial and the court upheld the termination. It concluded that employers have a legitimate interest in precluding defamatory or scandalous statements made by its employees on a publicly accessed website. This is true even if the postings occur off duty on the employee's own computer.

   A similar result was reached in Nicosia v. City of Belleville. There, a town employee posted a statement on a website that "all of the city cops should be shot in the head". Again the employer was able to obtain the identity of the individual, and terminated him. The court rejected the claim that an employee's off-duty internet usage as of no concern to the employer, and upheld the termination.

   While these cases are clearly not the last word on the subject, thay provide some guidance about the rosks associated with defamatory or threatening statements on internet websites.

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  • This Web page provides the latest updates for the national contract, riders and supplements that cover about 3,500 Teamsters at DHL Express.

  • We Are eXPOsing XPO’s Global Greed

    XPO Logistics is a top ten global logistics and transportation company with annual revenue of $15 billion and 89,000 employees, another 10,000 workers classified as independent contractors, and thousands more working for firms that subcontract with XPO. We are the REAL workers at XPO Logistics worldwide exposing the truth about the company’s global greed, illegal wage theft, unsafe conditions, and abhorrent and vicious anti-worker, anti-union tactics. 

    This greed includes mistreating former Con-way Freight workers in the United States who are being kept in the dark about terminal closures and layoffs, and the company’s illegal refusal to bargain contracts and denying their workers’ federally protected right to organize. It also includes port, rail and last-mile drivers around the country and in Southern California fighting wage theft in excess of $200 million because they are misclassified as independent contractors and denied the right to form their union. This greed has caused numerous lawsuits and strikes.  Greed also means an unsafe workplace and mistreating its warehouse employees.

    XPO’s greed extends to Europe beginning with breaking its promise to not layoff any workers for at least 18 months. French workers and the unions have been fighting back against XPO’s disrespect, lies and attempts to slash jobs. Similar struggles are taking place in Great Britain, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and across Europe.

    Join the worldwide struggle now! Get involved with this campaign by joining the Facebook group “XPO Exposed.”

    Together, we can eXPOse the company’s global greed and win fairness, respect and dignity for tens of thousands of XPO employees around the world!

  • This page provides the latest contract information to the 7,500 Teamsters—drivers, dockworkers and office staff—employed by ABF Freight System, Inc.

  • Workers’ pensions are being endangered by both Congress and those charged with overseeing them. The Teamsters and our members are standing united to say “No!” to cuts and “Yes!” to greater retirement security!

  • The ‘Let’s Get America Working!’ campaign seeks to restore a dynamic and prosperous middle class to drive economic growth by helping to advance policy decisions that create and maintain good middle-income jobs, guarantee retirement security, expand access to the American Dream, and ensure that the benefits of the ongoing economic recovery are felt by the many, not just the few.

  • This webpage provides information on the Teamsters Union’s legislative advocacy at both the federal and state level as well as our field activity to support those policy positions and to get strong labor candidates elected to office.  Among other resources, you will find our federal legislative scorecard, formal statements of policy position and communications to Capitol Hill,  a weekly update on federal legislative happenings, an overview of bills we are tracking at the state level, and quick links to take action on priority issues.

  • This web page provides information on the ongoing effort to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Since 1994, NAFTA has devastated working families, putting corporate profits ahead of people.  What’s worse is that NAFTA has become the blueprint for all other trade agreements, from the way that it was negotiated in secret, to the bad provisions that have made their way into every agreement that has been signed since then.  Now, NAFTA is being renegotiated and we demand that it be reframed to work for workers instead of corporate interests.

  • The Teamsters have stood in solidarity with worker struggles in other countries since our founding. With economic globalization, our ability to organize increasingly depends on our ability to build alliances with workers on a global scale.
    More than ever, Teamsters are organizing and bargaining with multi-national companies. A key objective of our Global Strategies Campaign is to build strong alliances with unions around the globe who organize and bargain with common employers. Our focus is on workers in the emerging global supply chains – the infrastructure of globalization.
    Globalization creates new opportunities for international worker solidarity. We seek common cause with workers around the world to build social justice for all workers and the communities in which they live.

  • The contributions of black members to the success of the Teamsters Union are numerous, varied and as old as the union itself. This month, the Teamsters Union spotlights some of those contributions.

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