Employees who blog ought to be careful, reports Tom Zeller, Jr., of the NY Times:
As the practice of blogging has spread, employees like Mr. Kennedy are coming to the realization that corporations, which spend millions of dollars protecting their brands, are under no particular obligation to tolerate threats, real or perceived, from the activities of people who become identified with those brands, even if it is on their personal Web sites.
They are also learning that the law offers no special protections for blogging – certainly no more than for any other off-duty activity.
As Annalee Newitz, a policy analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group in Washington, put it, “What we found is there really is quite a bit of diversity in how employers are responding to blogging.”
A rising tide of employees have recently been reprimanded or let go for running afoul of their employers’ taste or temperament on personal blogs, including a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines who learned the hard way that the carrier frowns on cheeky photos while in uniform and a Google employee who mused on the company’s financial condition and was fired.
Some interpreted these actions as meaning that even in their living rooms, even in their private basement computer caves, employees are required to be at least a little bit worried about losing their jobs if they write or post the wrong thing on their personal Web logs.[….]
But Ms. Newitz and others have cautioned that employees must be careful not to confuse freedom of speech with a freedom from consequences that might follow from what they say. Indeed, the vast majority of states are considered “at will” states – meaning that employees can quit, and employers can fire them, at will – without evident reason (barring statutory exceptions like race or religion, where discrimination would have to be proved).
“There really are no laws that protect you,” Ms. Newitz said.
Martin H. Malin, a professor of law and director of the Institute for Law and the Workplace at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, said there were only a few exceptions.
“It depends on what the blog is,” he said, “what the content is, and whether there’s any contractual protection for the employee.” [….]
Most of the points are the kinds of common-sense items that employees would do well to remember, particularly if they plan on identifying themselves as employees in their blogs, or discussing office matters online: don’t post material that is obscene, defamatory, profane or libelous, and make sure that you indicate that the opinions expressed are your own.
The policy also encourages employee bloggers to use their real names, rather than attempting anonymity or writing under a pseudonym.
Bad idea, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Two weeks ago, the group published a tutorial on “how to blog safely,” which included tips on avoiding getting fired. Chief among its recommendations: Blog anonymously.
“Basically, we just want to caution people about how easy it is to find them online,” Ms. Newitz said, “and that they are not just talking to their friends on their blogs. They’re talking to everyone.”
But does that means that Mr. Kennedy, a short-timer, a product manager and by no means an executive at Technorati, carries the burden of representing the company into his personal blog?
Technorati’s vice president for engineering, Adam Hertz, responded: “It would be antithetical to our corporate values to force Niall to do anything in his blog. It’s his blog.”
Yet with the spread of the Internet and of blogging, Mr. Hertz said, it would be foolish for companies to not spend some time discussing the art of public communications with their employees, and even train and prepare lower-level staff for these kinds of public relations situations.
That said, Mr. Hertz stressed that the company had no interest in formalizing any complicated policies regarding an employee’s activities outside the office.
“I had a high school teacher,” he recalled, “who used to say ‘I have only two rules: Don’t roller-skate in the hallway and don’t be a damn fool.’ We really value a company where people can think for themselves.”
Very interesting stuff.
Law.com posts an article that the law schools are getting more serious about catering to the “US News and World Report” ratings, even if the deans personally don’t like doing that. Hmm. It’s bad enough that the undergraduate colleges get all worked up about those rankings, but the law schools getting into the game doesn’t make it better.
Such a beautiful spring day…