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Can You Be Fired for Blogging?
It was Merriam-Webster Online's No. 1 word of 2004, and Fortune magazine named it the No. 1 tech trend for 2005. Two surveys by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in November 2004 found that 8 million people say they have created one and almost one-third of Internet users say they read one. But it's still a mystery: Six-of-ten Internet users say they don't know what "blog" means.
A blog, according to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, is "a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments and often hyperlinks provided by the writer."
Bloggers write about their lives to keep friends and family up-to-date, talk about their industry, discuss hobbies or rant about their favorite reality TV show. But posting pictures of you at work, disclosing confidential information about your employer, or bad-mouthing your co-workers could get you in hot water for committing inappropriate behavior.
Whether or not it's intentional, divulging dirt about your job can spell trouble at work. Ellen Simonetti, a flight attendant for Delta, learned this the hard way.
Simonetti started a blog as a way to cope with her mother's death because she found it easier to write about her feelings than talk about them. She described it as an anonymous, semi-fictitious account of life as a flight attendant -- and she lost her job because of it.
Simonetti claims her termination resulted from pictures posted on her Web site, which show her in uniform aboard a Delta airplane. "The only reason I was given was the very vague phrase: 'inappropriate pictures in uniform.' Delta will not define what 'inappropriate' means, nor tell me which pictures they found 'inappropriate'," she says. When asked about the issue, a Delta representative said the company does not discuss internal employee-related issues with the media.
Whatever bloggers are writing about work, employers don't like it. Employees have reportedly been fired for blogging at a number of companies, including Starbucks, Delta, Wells Fargo, Friendster and Kmart.
In a January 2005 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), only 3 percent of human resource professionals report disciplining an employee for blogging and none reported dismissing an employee for such behavior. Despite this, ejected bloggers stand by their claims.
What could be grounds for termination? If you are disclosing trade secrets or proprietary or confidential information on your blog or using excessive amounts of time when you should be working, it's possible you will reap the consequences, says Rosemary Haefner, vice president for human resources at CareerBuilder.com.
"Companies need to do their best to not only protect their interests, but protect their employees," says Jeremy Wright, fired blogger and founder of InsideBlogging, a blog consulting company. "Most firings are due to individual bosses taking drastic measures; it is rarely a higher company decision. When a blogger is going to be fired, the HR team needs to be sure it is for the right reason and that reactive measures simply aren't being taken due to fear or personal issues."
If you're thinking of starting your own blog or already have one, here's some advice to make sure your online diary isn't reason for your employer to let you go:
1. Know where your company stands.
Ask about the company blogging policy before you start, even if you are doing it anonymously, Simonetti advises. Does your company establish boundaries? Is blogging acceptable? Is it OK to mention your employer? Are there topics that are off-limits? What are the consequences?
2. Blog on your own time.
If you are using company hardware, a company network or doing it on company time, you are likely bound by company policy and could be reprimanded or terminated for wrongful use, Haefner says.
3. Practice safe blogs.
"Employees who go around sharing negative or confidential information about their company, product, or service -- either internal or external -- to the company would and should get fired," says Pete Quintas, CTO of SilkRoad Technology, creator of an enterprise blogging application called Silkblogs. "You need to be honest and not secretive about what you are writing unless you are willing to deal with the consequences."
4. Don't hide it from your boss.
Quintas says you should be honest about your blogging, and ask your employer if it is OK to do. "I would consider it analogous to asking your employer: 'I have been invited to speak on a panel at this industry conference; can I participate?'"
5. Use good judgment.
If you consider blogs and the Internet an extension of your voice, what you say on your blog about your company, product or service should be kept within the guidelines of what you would verbally say in public, according to Quintas. "Treat it with the same restraint of how you talk in person about your company, remembering that more people have access to what you say." he suggests. "Don't say anything different than what you would say at a happy hour, or at a company holiday party, or at an industry trade show, or in front of a customer."
6. Others will disagree with you.
You can't please all people all of the time. As with any communications medium, the best advice is to be aware of the repercussions your decisions may have, Wright warns. "Anytime you post, you are effectively making a choice between being safe, and having something worthwhile to say. It's a rare occasion where you can both please everyone and come up with a new and engaging line of thought. Sometimes things you say will offend people, no matter where you're saying them."
Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
Copyright 2008 CareerBuilder.com. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authority.
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