Feeds

Civil Serf blogger faces disciplinary action

Suspended pending investigation into conduct

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

A senior civil servant who detailed the inner workings of Government has reportedly been suspended pending an investigation into her conduct. The author of the popular Civil Serf blog is reported to have confessed to a Government investigating team.

The disciplinary action raises questions over what employers should and are allowed to do when employees use new media technologies in a way the employer disapproves of.

The unnamed civil servant at the heart of the controversy is said to be a fast-track civil servant who, on her blog, said that she was "just senior enough in my department to really know what's going on, but not senior enough to attract suspicion from my blogging".

She detailed how policies in her department, which has been identified by observers as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), were announced more than once to give the impression of activity, and said that senior ministers are lazy, only taking decisions at weekends "because they have their spouse and/or political adviser to do it for them".

Followed closely by political observers, the blog attracted an influential following and was the subject of an investigation to discover its source. Last week the blog went off-line and a civil servant was reported to have been confronted and admitted authorship. She has been suspended, according to reports.

There is a civil service code of conduct which governs what civil servants can and cannot say in public, and a spokesperson for the DWP told the Daily Mail that it was investigating whether or not any breach of that code had taken place.

Employment law specialist Catherine Barker of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said that some blogging could be grounds for disciplinary action regardless of the content of any code or agreement, but that employers will find themselves on much stronger ground if they have and communicate a clear policy to employees.

"In the absence of having a clear policy which covers this type of activity an employer hoping to instigate disciplinary action against a member of staff would have to show that the employee has breached one of the implied terms of their employment contract, such as the duty of fidelity, confidentiality, or perhaps trust and confidence," said Barker.

"If a member of staff is openly critical of the employer in a blog, it can be evidence of a breach of trust and justify disciplinary action. Being able to point to a clear communications policy that spells out that it is unacceptable to identify your employer online or bring the employer into disrepute makes this process even easier," she said.

Employers are increasingly faced with the problem of how and whether to regulate employees' communications using ubiquitous publishing technologies such as blogs or social networking sites.

Last year an employee at an accountancy firm in Paris was sued by that firm. Catherine Sanderson wrote about her employer without naming it, but the firm thought she had identified it by publishing a photograph of herself on her blog, La Petite Anglaise. She was sacked but won a year's salary plus costs in compensation for her dismissal.

Barker said that if employers are to take action they must be clear to employees about their policies.

"Employers need to ensure that the ground rules of acceptable behaviour online are firmly established," she said. "This is particularly true where an employee is posting information in cyberspace in his or her own free time, using their own computer equipment, rather than that belonging to his or her employer."

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Facebook pays INFINITELY MORE UK corp tax than in 2012
Thanks for the £3k, Zuck. Doh! you're IN CREDIT. Guess not
Big Content outs piracy hotbeds: São Paulo, Beijing ... TORONTO?
MPAA calls Canadians a bunch of bootlegging movie thieves
Google Glassholes are UNDATEABLE – HP exec
You need an emotional connection, says touchy-feely MD... We can do that
Lawyers mobilise angry mob against Apple over alleged 2011 Macbook Pro crapness
We suffered 'random bouts of graphical distortion' - fanbois
Just don't blame Bono! Apple iTunes music sales PLUMMET
Cupertino revenue hit by cheapo downloads, says report
US court SHUTS DOWN 'scammers posing as Microsoft, Facebook support staff'
Netizens allegedly duped into paying for bogus tech advice
Feds seek potential 'second Snowden' gov doc leaker – report
Hang on, Ed wasn't here when we compiled THIS document
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.