Question:

A friend of mine recently got fired for blogging. She was told that she had violated company policy. I don’t even know what blogging is. What is it, and why was my friend fired?

Answer:

The word “blog” is shorthand for a web log. There are many definitions, but basically a blog is a web-based publication that can include the writings of one author, or a large community of writers. Blogs can range from individual diaries to larger groups advancing political or other beliefs. Although once obscure, web logs are now prominent, and used by news organizations, political consultants and others. One source reports that 27% of adults who regularly go online in the United States read blogs, while 7% create them.

In the workplace, the employee’s right to free speech sometimes conflicts with his or her employer’s interests, and many employees are unaware that their blog activity can lead to discipline or termination. With the increase of blogs, there has been an increase in the number of employees disciplined for their blog activities. For example, one employee was fired from her job for, among other things, calling her boss “Her Wretchedness” and “the most insane person you have ever witnessed outside of Dateline NBC” on a popular blog. Her firing led to the coining of a new term “dooce,” which means to lose one’s job because of one’s website – as in, “I was dooced because of what I wrote on my blog.” Her advice to other employees: “Be ye not so stupid.”

In another well-known case, Google, Inc. fired one of its employees for distribution of corporate secrets in his personal blog. In another case, a Congressional Intern was fired for “unacceptable use of Senate computers” because her blog contained details about sexual activities with older married men that she had met while working for a United States Senator. The woman had also complained about her “meager salary” as a Congressional Intern.

As a result of the increase in the use of blogs and their impact on the workplace, many employers are addressing blog use in their Internet and Computer Use policies. A clearly defined policy can help both the employer and the employee by defining expectations and improper use of the internet, including blog content. For example, employers can legitimately restrict an employee’s use of blogs by prohibiting employees from disclosing trade secrets, confidential information, customer lists, and other proprietary information. Also, an employer can prohibit an employee from defaming the employer, or attributing statements or beliefs to the employer. If an employee is expressing beliefs and opinions on their blog, and either overtly or by implication representing themselves as an employee of the company, the employer may restrict such activity.

However, employees can participate in blogs and express their own opinions, as long as there is no representation that the opinions are those of the employer. Also, under California law, employers cannot discipline or terminate employees for lawful off duty conduct when that conduct does not relate to the performance of the employee’s job, or otherwise have the potential to harm the employer’s business or reputation. In addition, the National Labor Relations Act protects an employee’s right to engage in concerted activity about the wages, benefits, or other terms and conditions of their employment, some of which may be addressed by an employee on his or her blog. Employers that seek to regulate their employees’ blog use must therefore be careful not to overstep in violation of their employees’ rights. And, employees who create or participate in blogs, like your friend, must be careful not to engage in conduct that will lead to discipline or termination.
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