When Blogging Gets You Fired

Blogger fired

You wouldn’t think that writing up a few random thoughts in a blog could get anyone into trouble, would you? Obviously, if you’re making libelous statements then some day soon you are going to be sued, allegedly. But, most of us are sensible enough not to slander anyone in print, in person, or online, aren’t we?

No, the issue to which I am alluding to is the case where you, as a blogger, overhear some juicy gossip, perhaps not all the details, but enough to make you respond strongly enough that you want to tell the world. You do a short write-up, expressing your opinions about the turn of events as you heard them, you mention no one by name, make no direct connections to the place or time of the happening, and do all this in a personal blog.

Next thing you hear, someone connected with the gossip has made the connection, found out where you work and emailed a serious complaint, cc’ing your boss. The complaint alludes to an abuse of privacy laws, trust, and customer-client confidentiality. You panic, confess all to your boss, a meeting is called with the bosses and HR and before you know what’s hit you, you’re fired.

There have been several instances of medical professionals and others being barred from writing blogs recently. There is usually a serious conflict of interest between the public discussion of medical matters and the confidentiality inherent in the Hippocratic Oath. It’s the same when professionals present case studies in their trade publications, particularly if they mention any two of the following, portable vacuum cleaners, potatoes, genitals, the rectum, or hot-tubs, in the same sentence.

Seriously though, what can you, as a compulsive blogger, do to minimise the risk of employment cessation? Here are my top tips, which you can take or leave, but which do not represent secure advice in the legal sense but merely some common sense thoughts.

First off, decide whether the benefits of blogging and the risks it might entail actually outweigh the benefits of gainful employment. I suspect 99 times out of 100 they won’t, unless you’ve optimised your ads really, really well.

Second, double check your employment contract and any professional oaths you take to make sure there is no conflict of interest or that you are not automatically precluded from revealing your inner thoughts to the public.

Third, do not under any circumstances use your employer’s computing equipment, services, web connection, email, telephone or anything else for personal use and particularly not in relation to your blog, unless you have explicit permission. Even then, be very cautious of blogging from a work IP. They could string you up on a technicality if you even used the phone once to call your grandmother. In fact, they could fire you for all kinds of reasons on this one whether you’re blog breaks the rules or not.

Fourth, ensure your blog is entirely personally run, owned, and in no way tied to your employer. (Also see item 3 in this regard).

Fifth, make sure that what you are saying is legal and does not defame anyone, it’s a basic rule of journalism, and if bloggers are staking a claim on that realm, then they ought to learn the rules, for their own safety.

Finally, a bonus tip. Go back to point one and decide whether running a blog to vent off steam is really a better outlet than a trip to the pub with friends where you can ruminate to your heart’s content with (usually) no fear of losing your job. Ask yourself, does my blog shed a good light on me as a professional or my employer as the entity paying my bills?

In a recent report from American Medical News, some physician-bloggers have found that what they wrote could be used against them. That doesn’t mean you have to stop, or never start, says the report. But, people do get sacked for running blogs and saying the wrong thing, at the wrong time.

Incidentally, this post is NOT autobiographical. I didn’t. Honest. But, I’m not going to embarrass the blogger who did get fired this week, having essentially failed to adhere to those safe blogging rules.

Meanwhile, more public cases of blog firings that show this is nothing new. Read ’em and weep:

When Blogging Gets Risky

Blogging Blunders Could Lead To Pink Slip

US Blogger Fired by Her Airline

I Was Just Fired for Blogging

Of Blogging and Unemployment

5 Reasons Blogging Leads to the Unemployment Line (You’re Fired!) – Adds, the caveat that you must sure you’re not late for work or slacking cos you’re blogging.

Be warned though, not blogging can get you fired too!

And, it’s not just blogging that could get you into trouble, your boss could “own” your Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Pownce, etc accounts if you even mentioned running one at work, under your contract of employment. Just as a research chemist who invents a new life-saving drug, attempts to take out a patent in their own name will most likely discover that anything they produce while employed will defer to the intellectual property of their employer. Unless their contract contains a get out clause or an IP sharing paragraph, they will not profit from their invention even if they did it in a home lab.

The same might apply to your StumbleUpon account (Stumble this post iconStumble This Post), your Digg page, your del.icio.us bookmarks, and links you share with others using the Share This plugin displayed below.

21 thoughts on “When Blogging Gets You Fired”

  1. AFTER being embarrassed by one of its employees on micro-blogging site Twitter, Telstra will today release a new policy governing how staff can talk about the company online, even in private conversations. Its so-called social media “guardrails” require employees to identify themselves as working for Telstra and to not say anything that might damage the company or its commercial interests.

    http://www.australianit.news.com.au/story/0,24897,25357606-15306,00.html

  2. Hi I’ve Tried That Site Which You Gave Me .. That Site Is’nt Working Also .. Mostly site are restricted banned here in uae .. plz do some thing i would be very thanksful to you all . ktnx

  3. Saad, you may want to check out our sibling site – Sciencetext.com – on which there is a post about side-stepping filters…

  4. Hi I want to open orkut .. i’ve many friends there i m in uae orkut is banned here please help me do something kthx

  5. @ Orange:
    Morally speaking however, I support speech has consequence. But things get complex when subjected to careful discussion. My point is rather to ask ‘what consequence’, which seems not clearly defined enough legally so that both camps would act in a *balanced* way. ‘A blogger moans about his boss’ is never blessed of course but what David Bradley assumed in this post seems more than this. He is assuming ‘someone blogged (at home) about something not related to their own work, but someone else took offence, told the boss, and the boss fired them’. Do you agree blogging in itself, of no matter what content, should put one’s employment or career in danger?

  6. What “legal right” is that? It’s not a question of the government arresting bloggers, but rather of employers taking action. If the local paper publishes your letter to the editor complaining about the prominent company you work for, would you really expect the company to take no notice? It’s the same situation when a blogger moans about his boss. Perhaps the current boss won’t notice, or won’t object; perhaps that won’t be seen as a (legally valid) reason to fire the blogger. It might certainly affect his chances of getting another job, though – if he’s got a history of public complaints about company policies or his coworkers, rather than dealing with the situation directly, that certainly says something about his communications and interpersonal skills, if nothing else.

    There’s also a difference, I think, between this and whistle-blowing, which *is* protected already.

    Actions have consequences, and so does speech.

  7. When I start a blog I am not going to hide it, otherwise I will keep a personal diary instead. The blog-induced-firing problem should not be (called as) an issue of privacy technology on the WWW, I think. It is an issue of how to protect the legal right of bloggers, a new group (new?) of writers.

  8. Vern, this is similar to the case that inspired my original post. Someone blogged (at home) about something not related to their own work, but someone else took offence, told the boss, and the boss fired them. I’ve just posted an item about online privacy controls and software that is kind of related to this.

  9. In Thailand a girl was just fired for blogging at her own personal blog – but not even during work! Thailand is in a weird state right now, but even this is permissable here. She was blogging at her wordpress blog about a guy she was seeing, and her boss at her teaching job took offense and canned her! This was not a Thai guy from from my understanding, but a fellow expat.

  10. Even if there’s no one looking over your shoulder physically it doesn’t mean they’re not sniffing your packets virtually from some darkened room with banks for monitors…

  11. Blogging at work can be hazardous indeed. My boss saw the blogger window (in IE) minimized and decided to ‘see what it was’. I got a wrap on the knuckles that day, but I don’t think he’ll be so understanding in future. I still make posts from work though…I just do it when he leaves the office and at lunch time.

    cyberst0rm’s tech blog
    http://cyberst0rm.blogspot.com

  12. All points taken. I’m not suggesting anyone censor themselves, I just think it’s worth being cautious and if bloggers want the legal protection and rights of bona fide journalists then they must also follow the rules of journalism. It may not only be your job you lose, you could get sued, for instance, and even if you were to win that could be a very painful and costly process. Then, there is also the possibility of violence against you or your family should you blog something particularly personal or offensive. Like I say, some things are best kept for ranting about over a pint down the pub, rather than panting about in public.

  13. I can actually appreciate how blogging -could- be harmful to a person’s employer so in some cases, I think action on the part of the employer -is- necessary. I just think that an automatic ‘you’re fired’ is excessive and a warning might better address the issue.

    For me, I don’t worry about it. The only parallel between my paid work and my blog is that they both relate to the science field (a broad field at that!). My blog is aimed at kids and teens and with the exception of a few teen science magazines I write for, all of my professional work is for academia and adult consumer audiences. It’s interesting for me because I think I’m more likely to ruffle the feathers of a conservative parent- I cover issues that don’t always get shared with the tween and teen groups and touch on more controversial stuff (eg. stem cells). I see this as more probable versus my professional work being harmed by the blog.

    I think there also comes a point where one might think, ‘Do I -want- to work for an employer who would take issue with my blogging?’ If you’re being honest and respectful (to the best of your ability) when you’re blogging, I think you just have to relax and enjoy it without fear. I think you did make some ace points though-it’s all stuff a blogger needs to keep in mind! :)

  14. It’s a shame. It’s the interesting things that one writes about which are the most likely to get one canned. Take them away and what’s left to blog about?

  15. Something like that happened at my school where they had the rule “a student can’t write or speak bad about the school itself”.

    And of course we were just critizicing. But, meh… silly rules.

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