ELECTRONIC WORKPLACE: Unpermitted Internet use at work can be catastrophic for both employees and employers

In Texas, impersonating another person online is a crime under Tex. Penal Code § 33.07. A plethora of legal implications has developed in the labor and employment law context with the rise of social media and advertising sites such as Craigslist. Employers may not yet realize the impact such sites can have on their organization, but the use of those sites in the workplace has created unprecedented risks for employees and employers.

An obsession for the truth

According to a Houston Chronicle article, Tamantha Johnson, a Houston woman, suspected that her husband was cheating on her. She did not have proof, however. In her search for the truth, she allegedly “posted a Craigslist ad requesting sex from married men on behalf of her husband’s alleged mistress.” The alleged mistress fell victim to Johnson’s malevolent undertaking. The victim received nearly 100 requests for sex from unknown men, along with several unwanted nude photographs.

Besides tarnishing the victim’s reputation, the incident affected her financially. She worked as an instructor in her own business, and her business suffered a loss because of Johnson’s online impersonation. From the outset, the victim’s sense of security was gone since it was impossible to anticipate what Johnson would do next.

Johnson is currently facing a charge of felony online impersonation. During its investigation, the Houston Police Department successfully tracked her down by using an IP address that was registered to her place of employment. The content of her post was not related to her employer or her coworkers whatsoever. The ad was directed to an individual outside her workplace. Nonetheless, her action placed her employer in a perilous situation because now it will be questioned about whether it had safeguards in place to prevent the incident from occurring.

Better safe than sorry

Johnson’s malicious act provides many lessons for employees and employers. Regardless of whether online impersonation is a joke or an act of revenge, employees should refrain from such actions for obvious reasons. Employers should periodically update the misconduct, computer access, e-mail, and Internet usage sections of their employment manuals and handbooks. You should also regularly remind employees of the dangers of inappropriate Internet use in the workplace.

Although it is impossible for an employer to have complete control over its employees’ actions, the above preventive measures should act as barricades. The reality is that social media and the Internet are here to stay, but if you are vigilant and can anticipate workplace issues like the incident in this case, you will be one step closer to successfully maintaining an organization that protects all employees.

Jacob M. Monty, the managing partner of Monty & Ramirez, LLP, practices at the intersection of immigration and labor law. He can be reached at jmonty@montyramirezlaw. com or 281-493-5529. ✤