This page considers blog-related dismissals, ie employees
being fired on the basis of comments in their blogs.
It covers -
It supplements discussion of enterprise
blogging earlier in this profile. It is complemented by
a broader exploration
of labour, unions and employment in the digital environment
and discussion of workplace
censorship. Writing about social network-related dismissals
(eg being 'busted' for content on Facebook and MySpace)
A handful of high-profile incidents during 2004 and 2005
expressions of anxiety in the blogosphere - and surprise
in the mainstream media - about employees being
dismissed for comments made in personal blogs.
Some of those comments were pseudonymous or did not directly
identify the employer but were perceived as critical of
the organisation or disruptive of workplace relations
(eg denigrated executives or made fun of colleagues).
Some were claimed to bring the employer into disrepute
or to expose the employer to vicarious liability. Others
revealed information that was claimed as bringing the
blogger into disrepute, including statements about past/current
sexual practice and substance intake.
Blog-related exits supposedly proliferated as people made
incautious comments about their employers or clients and
employers came to grips with such publishing. One US law
journal thus referred to blog-related firings as "the
tech trend of 2005".
how many dismissals?
Contrary to such alarms about a coming wave of blog-related
dismissals there does not appear to have been a large
number of firings in Australia, North America and elsewhere.
That has variously been attributed to -
relying on persuasion (and alerting employees to corporate
communication guidelines) rather than terminating what
one contact characterised as "gabby staff"
reliance on other justifications in dismissing employee
(eg the offensive blog post may have been the real reason
for departure but the employer used other reasons in
identifying why the blogger was let go)
claiming that they were dismissed for a blog post rather
than for a history of disagreement with management,
conflict with colleagues, incompetence or mere bad fortune
rarity of egregious posts by employees and a sensible
attitude by employers in dealing with inappropriate
or even indifference on the part of employers regarding
what personnel are posting on company time and on a
purely private basis.
has also been attributed to employer use of non-disclosure
agreements in firing personnel, ie employees are indeed
being 'busted for blogging' but those dismissals are not
becoming public and are not being collated by government
agencies or academic bodies.
There is disagreement about claims from network security
solution vendors that blogging is a major threat and that
organisations are firing staff on a large scale. US vendor
Proofpoint has attracted attention for claims that 7%
of US companies have fired an employee for blogging or
bulletin board postings (with 27% firing an employee for
violating email policies and over half having disciplined
employees for violating those policies).
a media phenomenon?
That disagreement is reflected in suggestions that blog-related
firings are a media phenomenon - something that has grabbed
headlines on 'slow news days' and provided fodder for
tech journalists - rather than a fundamental problem or
an "epidemic" that threatens the blogosphere
and free speech.
Blogging (including anonymous or pseudonymous blogging)
is not exempt from law dealing with confidentiality, personal
privacy, hatespeech, defamation, stalking,
bullying. Much media
coverage of blog-related dismissals has been resolutely
anecdotal, with little effort to explore the circumstances
of specific incidents or to identify instances in which
firing would be unremarkable.
There has also been little effort to undertake research
about the history of particular bloggers, some of whom
gained publicity prior to dismissal for matters such as
substance intake, had a history of disagreements with
supervisors or closely resembled 'the colleague from hell'.
A more searching analysis would encompass examination
of dismissals attributable to communication outside the
web, including letters to newspapers, articles in magazines
and scholarly journals that feature criticisms of employers,
contributions to union newsletters and appearances on
television and radio (whether as critics or 'the defendant').
Should blogging be any different?
In September 2004 Joyce Park (aka Troutgirl) was reportedly
from a development position with social
network service operator Friendster for blogging about
Claiming that she had written only a couple of Friendster-related
blog entries, she commented
felt I didn't say anything disparaging. Friendster is
in the business of getting people to reveal information
about themselves, and for them to terminate me like
this is sort of undermining their whole mission.
Armstrong, a US web designer fired for writing about her
work online, lent her moniker to blog-related sacking
... referred to by some bloggers as getting "Dooced".
Her blog forthrightly featured information about her life,
complaints about work and unflattering descriptions of
co-workers and supervisors. Armstrong did not identify
her employer and reportedly never mentioned colleagues
by name. After being alerted by an anonymous email from
a co-worker her employer fired her, explaining that the
firm had a zero-tolerance policy for 'negativity' and
that the blog unduly influenced younger colleagues.
Wells Fargo similarly dismissed an employee after managers
learned of his blog, which made fun of some co-workers.
author of Blog Marketing (New York: McGraw-Hill
2005), sarkily blogged from a Canadian health service
provider while the corporate server was down for three
Getting to surf the web for 3 hours while being paid:
Priceless. Getting to blog for 3 hours while being paid:
Priceless. Sitting around doing nothing for 3 hours
while being paid: Priceless. Installing Windows 2000
Server on a P2 300: Bloody Freaking Priceless.
was fired a year later, with the employer indicating that
unauthorised release of information about the network
was an infringement of his nondisclosure duty. Ironically,
it appears from Wright's blog that he had previously submitted
The UK saw what was claimed as its first blog-related
termination in January 2005, with bookseller Joe Gordon
reportedly being axed by Waterstone's for "gross
misconduct" and "bringing the company into disrepute"
after mentioning bad days at work and satirising his "sandal-wearing"
Software expert Mark Pilgrim was reportedly dismissed
following controversy over revelation on his personal
blog that he had formerly used drugs. Although Pilgrim
no longer used drugs his manager is reported as having
demanded that he take down his blog. The manager refused
Pilgrim's offer to compromise by unlinking his blog from
the programming site. When Pilgrim posted his resume on
his blog in anticipation of being fired, his manager used
the posting as a reason to fire Pilgrim.
In 2006 blogger Catherin Sanderson (aka 'La Petite Anglaise'),
a secretary in the Paris office of accountants Dixon Wilson,
was allegedly told that she was being dismissed for gross
misconduct because of her blog. She commented that "I
was shocked. It was a bolt out of the blue, I was not
given any warning".
Her employer reportedly claimed that she used office time
to work on the blog and tacitly identified the company.
She responded by posting news of her dismissal and seeking
around £54,000 under French labour law. An employment
tribunal in Paris endorsed her complaint of unfair dismissal,
awarding a year's salary (£29,900) plus legal costs
Microsoft contractor Michael Hanscom ruffled corporate
feathers at Redmond with a photo on his blog of Apple
computers being delivered to Microsoft HQ, captioned "Even
Microsoft wants G5s". After that MS did not want
Ellen Simonetti's Queen of the Sky: Diary of a Flight
Attendant blog featured images of herself in Delta uniform,
in mildly seductive poses. She alerted Delta management
to the blog, reportedly in the hope that the airline would
advertise on her pages. It fired her instead.
New Google staffer Mark Jen Jen described in detail Google's
employee orientation program, hinted at new products and
briefly discussed his impressions of company's financial
situation. He had injudiciously blogged immediately prior
to a quarterly financial report and just before colleagues
were about to become vested. Out he went, after two weeks.
Matthew Brown of Starbucks expressed his irritation after
his boss refused to let him go home sick. Starbucks found
the post, Brown was dismissed.
Rachel Mosteller was fired by the Durham Herald-Sun
a day after her blog criticised her employer, including
the statement "I really hate my place of employment".
Mosteller had used a pseudonym, did not name her company
or where it was based and did not name her colleagues.
Boston University adjunct professor Michael Gee was "indiscreet"
soon after staring work at the College of Communication,
famously describing one of his students as "incredibly
hot". The University disagreed with his openness
and he was terminated.
PhD student Meg Spohn was more controversially axed from
DeVry University for criticism of that institution. She
still don't know what post of mine was supposed to have
been so offensive. DeVry told me I was being "let
go" because I said disparaging things about them
and about the students in my blog, but they wouldn't
say what exactly they objected to. It's not like I ever
said anything like, "DeVry sucks!" - whatever
it is, it's not obvious to me, or to the students (who
just started reading it post-dooce - no DeVry student
EVER complained about my blog). And I certainly never
said anything negative about the students, because I
have nothing negative to say. They're terrific: entertaining
and inspiring every day. I really miss them.
My blog is just about what's going on in my life and
what I'm thinking about. It never occurred to me that
my thoughts would offend somebody, never mind get me
fired. As far as I knew, until a couple of weeks ago,
I had security by obscurity anyway. Why would anybody
even care what I was noodling about? My firing was utterly
surreal to me.
US federal attorney David Lat was strongly encouraged
to find a new employer after controversy regarding his
'Underneath Their Robes' blog, where he posted in the
guise of Article III Groupie, an Ivy League female attorney
with a penchant for gossip about federal court judges,
That included identifying the "superhotties"
of the federal judiciary.
("dubbed 'the poster girl for the blogger generation'
by the New York Post), associate beauty editor
at Ladies' Home Journal, was asked to leave that
position and had a job offer at Seventeen withdrawn
after the magazines discovered she was blogging on 'Jolie
in NYC' about work. Haobsh subsequently gained a two-book
Kelly Kreth was fired from her job as marketing and public
relations director at a Manhattan real estate firm Dwelling
Quest in 2005 for blogging about her co-workers, including
the characterisation of a superior as shrill, loud and
US congressional staffer Jessica Cutler, as 'Washingtonienne',
offered information about a taco-eating contest and ongoing
sexual interaction (some on a paid basis) with up to six
different men. Her blog survived for two weeks before
she was publicly identified and fired. Cutler - subsequently
hyped as "an American uber-individualist demanding
the right to tell her own story her own way", - was
reportedly offered a six-figure book deal and an opportunity
to pose naked in Playboy, claiming that those
outcomes were not her motivations for blogging.
Other examples of post-blog terminations in the US are
In Australia the federal Liberal Party deselected candidate
Hamish Jones for the seat of Maribyrnong in 2007 after
a furore over his ungentlemanly description of Victorian
cabinet minister Lynne Kosky on his blog. Liberal Party
state director Julian Sheezel announced that Jones had
"withdrawn his candidature" for Maribyrnong,
commenting that "He has published a very indiscreet
and improper blog site, which makes his candidacy untenable".
Courseware developer Leigh Blackall was reportedly fired
from the Educational Development Centre at the University
of Western Sydney in 2005 over comments in his blog.
What issues are posed by blog-related firings?
For many observers the key issues are -
shape of corporate control of employees
employment overrides perceived rights of free speech,
with dismissal of employees for expression online or
employees misunderstand rights, risks and responsibilities
Does an employer have rights over an individual's personal
life, including that person's choice of associates, dress
and consumption? Can people be fired for innocuous content
in blogs, for content in other online venues (eg party
photos in Facebook and MySpace profiles,
exchanges in adult chatrooms or financial bulletin boards)
or appearances offline (eg being seen at a union rally,
a casino or the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras)? The answer is
yes, depending on circumstances and jurisdiction.
Does control extend to restrictions on expression that
do not identify the employer or utilise the employer's
Expressions of unhappiness about life as a member of the
binary proletariat - such as Net Slaves: True Tales
of Working the Web (New York: McGraw-Hill 1999) by
Bill Lessard & Steve Baldwin and From Widgets
to Digits: Employment Regulation For The Changing Workplace
(Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2004) by Katherine Stone
- are highlighted here.
Rafael Gely & Leonard Bierman's 2007 'Social Isolation
& American Workers: Employee Blogging and Legal Reform'
in 20(2) Harvard Journal of Law & Technology,
288-484, characterises blogs as
union halls' where employees can connect, building social
ties and reducing the isolation inherent in present-day
that "off-duty employee bloggers deserve legal protections
commensurate with their roles as builders of social communities".
In practice, most bloggers need to help themselves rather
than relying on intervention by government or unions and
sympathy from the blogosphere. Not all firings lead to
an offer from a publisher.
One response is for bloggers to be aware of questions
and law highlighted earlier
in this profile.
Other responses include -
litigious issues (including expressions that might be
construed as vilification or bullying) and matters that
are likely to annoy a supervisor enough to fire you
familiar with and observing terms of employment (particularly
if you are a US employee in an 'at will' dismissal jurisdiction)
a sense of financial disclosure and intellectual property
relying on pseudonymity (and if you do, recalling that
several bloggers have been 'dobbed
in' by colleagues and thereafter shown the door)
familiar with and observing the employer's policy on
blogging, on corporate communication and on private
use of corporate facilities/services (eg what you cannot
do via the employer's internet connection)
that your perceptions of the world (or merely that of
the organisation's brand and relationships with other
entities such as customers and suppliers) may be different
to executives and institutional gatekeepers such as
lawyers and public relations personnel
that law in your jurisdiction may be quite different
to that in other parts of the world, so that protections
and remedies in the US for example are not available
that are likely to concern those gatekeepers include -
of the organisation's corporate image and relationships
with other parties, including denigration of business
disclosure of financial or other confidential information,
which might include product releases, technical details,
criticisms of the capability, commitment or ethics of
executives and co-workers
of personal attributes that are inconsistent with expectations
about 'corporate comportment' - what one HR person characterises
as breaching the unwritten 'don't ask, don't tell' policy
about who you are sleeping with, how much you are drinking,
what you did at the casino (especially if you are a
member of clergy or banker) and whether you've thrown
up yet again
of personal information that the employer has not discovered
during vetting or in the
course of work, such as an undisclosed criminal conviction
or boasting of successful resume
public relations contact has thus been known to remind
young geeks, creatives and lawyers that there is more
'free speech' outside academic institutions, major businesses
and government agencies ... but that the price of being
'free' may be that you do not eat very well.
Charles Duhig's 2004 Legal Affairs article
'World Wide Water Cooler: Can You Be Fired For Complaining
About Your Boss Online? offered a view from 2004.
More detailed coverage is provided in 'Bloggers and the
Workplace: The Search for a Legal Solution to the Conflict
between Employee Blogging and Employers' by Henry Hoang
Pham in 26 Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law
Review (2005/6) 207-231; 'Myspace or Yours: The Abridgement
of the Blogosphere at the Hands of At-Will Employment'
by Bijal Patel in 44 Houston Law Review (2007)
777-812; 'Say What?: Blogging and Employment Law in Conflict'
by Paul Gutman in 27 Columbia Journal of Law &
Arts (2003) 145-185, 'Can Blogging and Employment
Co-Exist?' by John Hong in 41 University of San Francisco
Law Review (2007) 445-471; 'Hiding from the Boss
Online: The Anti-Employer Blogger's Legal Quest For Anonymity'
by Konrad Lee in 23 Santa Clara Computer and High
Technology Law Journal (2006) 135-155; 'Fired For
Blogging: Are There Legal Protections For Employees Who
Blog?' by Robert Sprague in 9 University of Pennsylvania
Journal of Labor & Employment (2007) 355-385;
'Getting Dooced: Employee Blogs and Employer Blogging
Policies Under The National Labor Relations Act' by Marc
Cote in 82 Washington Law Review (2007) 121-145;
'Employment termination for employee blogging: number
one tech trend for 2005 and beyond, or a recipe for getting
dooced?' by Stephen Lichtenstein & Jonathan Darrow
in UCLA Journal of Law & Technology (2006)
4-38 and their 'At-Will Employment: A Right To Blog or
A Right To Terminate?' in 11(9) Journal of Internet
Law (2008); 'The Story of Me: The Underprotection
of Autobiographical Speech' by Sonja West in 84 Washington
University Law Review (2006) 905-58; and 'Warring
Ideologies For Regulating Military Blogs: A Cyberlaw Approach
for Balancing Free Speech And Security In Cyberspace'
by Julia Mitchell in 9 Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment
and Technology Law (2006) 201-19.
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