Have a Blog, lose your job?

Fascinating article here.

Upshot: employees may risk getting fired for what they put in their blogs — especially if they talk about who they work for. This kind of speech is NOT protected under the First Amendment.

My opinion: Duh. Just because you CAN say something without being thrown in jail for it doesn’t mean you SHOULD. When I worked for Novell there were all kinds of things that I was not to talk about openly, under pain of being fired with cause. It’s a no-brainer, folks.

The article also talks about NON-employees being targeted, and how they can defend themselves the same way mainstream media journalists do. In this case the First Amendment is pretty good protection. If what you’re saying is true, or at least substantiated, you can’t really be sued for it. And as a non-employee you certainly can’t be fired for it.

Anyway, the article struck home for me because of my relationship with Novell. For example, while employed by Novell I was not allowed to voice ANY sort of opinion about SCO’s lawsuits even though as an IT industry insider it’s obvious that I HELD an opinion. Following my departure from Novell, I cheerfully mocked SCO and McBride with impunity, expressing an opinion formed from publicly available facts and the application of the same intelligence available to any primate capable of walking upright.

The 21st century has elevated the street-corner soapbox well above “lectern” height and handed us all megaphones. Through the resultant cacaphony, there actually seems to be useful information… just be careful about discussing the fingernails of the hand that feeds you, dawg.

–Howard

36 thoughts on “Have a Blog, lose your job?”

  1. I can certainly understand that. One thing I do for my company at times is handle confidential and sensitive data (My company is bound by HIPPA, which requires a certain level of data security for patient records and the like). And while I have a tendency to rant about the strange things my employers do in regards to IT stuff in my journal, I don’t refer to them by their full name, only by a series of dashes… (i.e., Company —-)

    Another person on my friends list refers to it by the first letter, I.e, Company A or the like.

  2. I also tried to watch what I said about my last job. My LJ has robot-blocking on, but even so I never identified either the company (which was going nowhere) or my boss (who was the reason it was going nowhere) by name.

    I still don’t, though now that’s just due to concerns about libel suits; I didn’t say anything dishonest, but I can’t afford the legal fees if someone takes it personally anyway.

  3. I can understand being fired for disclosing company secrets or operating plans, but if you’re just doing something like griping about your benefits package sucks or what number of hours you work or whatever, or just bitching about coworkers’ personal behavior toward them… I don’t see how they can possibly have the right to censor that.

    A blog may be a journalism tool, but it can also be a personal conversation tool. I really don’t see how a company has the right to fire someone for saying, say, their boss is fat–no matter how loudly they say it–if they’re not at work.

    1. In most states where employment is “at-will”, they have the right to fire you for any reason at all as long as it’s not one of the legally prohibited reasons (race, sex, and so on). Even in non-at-will states, the standards are pretty low.

      The First Amendment does not protect you from private action.

      1. In most states where employment is “at-will”, they have the right to fire you for any reason at all as long as it’s not one of the legally prohibited reasons (race, sex, and so on). Even in non-at-will states, the standards are pretty low.

        This is true. However, it doesn’t make it right.

        1. I’m not sure it makes it wrong, either. I AM sure that further legislation protecting employees from being fired (or protecting employers from people quitting) would be wrong. Forcing people to keep employees they don’t get along with would be like forcing people to keep spouses they don’t get along with.

          I agree that arbitrary firings are unpleasant and hurtful, but legislation to protect us from it would do far more harm than good.

          –Howard

          1. What good is “freedom of speech” if you can lose your job for saying something, though? Is that real freedom? If someone does their job right, but they say something their employer doesn’t like, is it right for them to get fired for that?

            I mean, technically, a person could get fired for saying they wish their prescription copay was $10 instead of $50. Or for having a Kerry bumper sticker on their car. Or a Bush bumper sticker. Or for saying they supported either candidate. Or for anything else. What does this have to do with job performance?

            Freedom from government intervention doesn’t mean a person is free.

            I see your point, but I still wonder how one can really consider oneself free to speak with such a thing dangling over their head. It’d be nice if there were some kind of reasonable solution. (At least, a better one than the one I’ve found so far–my job sucks, but they can’t fire me for anything other than work performance just on the basis that they’re so understaffed as it is that they’d hurt themselves more than they’d hurt me by letting me go.)

          2. I had a co-worker who was well and truly the worst person imaginable for working with. He was a prima-donna developer, outspoken on far-ranging matters about which he had only passing knowledge, and he seemed to take great pleasure in denigrating everyone around him. Their beliefs, their work ethic, their patriotism (he was from Europe, and worked and lived here in the U.S. for reasons I never understood), and their technical expertise.

            I had a talk with his manager, and said “This guy is bad for morale. You need to remove him from the ‘lead developer’ position so his tirades don’t come across as company policy.”

            His manager told me “He causes us all a lot of pain, yes, but his work is worth it.” And that was the end of the discussion.

            Here was a case in which the free market, or Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand, or supply economics, or WHATEVER you want to call it protected this particular employee — by virtue of the fact that, as you alluded to in your own case, he was worth the pain he caused his employer.

            There was a management change about 18 months later. This guy became very, VERY quiet very quickly, because his Patron Saint left the company, and his new manager hadn’t yet been shown how supposedly valuable the outspoken jerk was.

          3. Well, I think that what you do while at your workplace should still be the domain of your employer. What you say there, well, you’re on the clock, and representing your company. If you’re saying anything to your co-workers or customers or anyone else that damages the company, you should get the axe for that, because you’re speaking on the company dime. I don’t object to that kind of termination.

            Just the kind that involves what people say when they’re outside the workplace and off the clock.

          4. Freedom from government intervention doesn’t mean a person is free.
            It is, however, the only kind of freedom government can avoid infringing.

            The problem with your argument is that corporations, too, must be free. If they’re tied down by thousands of government regulations, they become inefficient and more costly to run. Compare the costs of doing business in the US to those in Europe, where your ideas hold much more sway. They’re much higher over there.

            You can consider yourself free to speak all you want to. Neither you, nor anyone else, is free to speak without consequences of any sort, however.

          5. Compare the costs of doing business in the US to those in Europe, where your ideas hold much more sway. They’re much higher over there.

            I was going to make some comment about how cost-effectiveness and morality aren’t related… but then again, they often tend to be, in an inverse relationship.

            Yes, it’s cheaper to do business here, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better that they do.

          6. Personally? I feel that ‘at-will’ employment is right. However, I also feel that those employers should be REQUIRED to give the REAL reason they are terminating someone.

            “Bad fit” – what the HECK does that mean? It’s certainly not describing anything that can be FIXED by the employee, so he doesn’t run into it again later.
            I’d rather hear something like this – “I’m sorry, but I’ve had too many complaints from your coworkers that you haven’t been bathing enough, even after specifically being requested to. The smell bothers everyone.”

            Also, DON’T LET THEM DO REMOTE TERMINATION. I can’t list the number of times I’ve gotten telephone calls saying things like “Oh, they said not to come into work tomorrow.” – Why? “Oh, we don’t know. They wouldn’t tell us.” (Temp agency).

            If you want to fire someone, do it up front, in person, and do it yourself. Don’t delegate – if they worked for you, they are YOUR responsibility. If it makes you THAT uncomfortable about terminating someone, you probably shouldn’t have people working under you. I HATE backstabbers – and that’s anyone that will smile at you, then go straight to their boss and get you fired.

            Maybe there’s a fear of retaliation. Gee – like you’re going to make them any less likely to retaliate by ticking them off MORE?

            It must be all of those workplace shootings where the guy being fired just ups and guns down everyone with the Uzi he just happens to carry with him all the time in case of being fired. *durrrrrrr*

            Pet peeve – big one. (In short – Terminate anyone you like, for any reason, as long as you do it yourself, and give the reason for it, no matter how inane)

    2. The First Amendment Does Not Guarantee You a Job

      Mr. Tayler’s statement that “This kind of speech is NOT protected under the First Amendment” is a misnomer. Griping about your employer is absolutely protected by the First Amendment. That means the government cannot punish you for doing it.

      That does not mean that your company can’t. As Mr. Maynard says above, employment is “at will”. If you hire someone, you can also fire that person, and it doesn’t matter why (unless that reason has been specifically made illegal).

      Now, should a company fire you for griping about your benefits package (or lack thereof)? Of course not. It’s a dumb reason to fire someone, and a good company that’s worth working for won’t jump down your throat for it. But there is no law saying that a company cannot fire you for no good reason, just like there’s no law saying that you can’t quit for no good reason. And no law saying that companies have to hire you, either. That’s the way the system works: freedom of choice. Even when the choices are bad ones.

      1. Re: The First Amendment Does Not Guarantee You a Job

        Indeed. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. I suspect much disagreement is from the confusion of “freedom to” (such as freedom to speak) versus “freedom from” (such as freedom from any consequences of that speech). It not always realized that the freedom to speak is only that, the freedom to speak. It is no guarantee that the state of the world will remain unchanged after something is said. Ideal? Probably not, but trying to guarantee “freedom from” tends erode “freedom to” in very scary ways.

      2. Re: The First Amendment Does Not Guarantee You a Job

        Would you really want to work for the sort of asshole who would fire you for griping on your own private webspace on your own time?

        I wouldn’t.

  4. As well as the worry about getting dooced, I never mention the company I work for by name just in case some sociopath with an axe to grind (and I’m flypaper for freaks like that) decides to go on his own personal little jihad to get me fired for expressing opinions he disagrees with.

    You know, those sorts of delightful people who talk about how they’d like to punch you in the face “for your own good”.

  5. Yeah, “Duh”. I concur. This isn’t a blog thang, or an internet thang, it’s a common sense thang.

    The internet is an enabler. Unfortunately, along with the good stuff, it enables stupid people to amplify thier stupidity by orders of magnitude.

    Example.

    A few years ago, if there was a really good pic or something interesting going on at a big software company’s campus, those pics would usually filter through to sites like The Register or The Inquirer, and be posted anonymously. A little risky, yes. But chances of getting caught? Slim.

    Enter the 21st century. There was a fellow at MicroSoft that got canned for taking pics of a bunch of Macs being delivered at Redmond’s campus, then posting them on his own blog. In a word: STUPID.

    He delivered to Redmond’s security all they needed to can his butt for having a camera on campus. THAT ALONE would get you fired at the last three companies I worked at. (well, technically, the last one actually MADE the things, but security was keeping an eye on them)

    Wonder if he ever got to work in the same field again?

    1. Re: Anonymous Lawyer

      I read some of those. It was almost depressing. It reminded me of the “chapter-and-verse” stuff quoted in The Duke of Uranium. Basically, a “religion” has become widespread in the future, and said religion is based on teachings that corporate downsizers, defense attorneys, despots, and used-car salesmen of the 21st century would be right at home with.

      –Howard

  6. This whole thing reminds me…

    This whole thing reminds me of a couple of the most unpleasant experiences I had at Novell. In both cases I was brought in as an “expert witness” for the “prosecution” to determine whether or not something an employee said was “actionable.”

    In short, were the contents of this post/blog/email public knowledge, or did the employee divulge things he/she shouldn’t have.

    In the first case the disclosure was more along the lines of “corporate organization and policy” rather than anything technological. The two employees who’d been whining in their posts to a particular newsgroup were dismissed, but were not terminated-with-cause.

    In the second case the disclosure DID include technological stuff. It wasn’t trade secrets, mind you, but it WAS long-term roadmaps. The disclosure damaged the company, and it was made by an employee who was being laid off after close to 10 years of service. This guy lost at least $40,000 worth of termination benefits. His “package” of severance pay went down the tubes, all because he wanted, in his heart of hearts, to do “right” by his customers and his product.

    –Howard

  7. Shamless Blog Plug

    I’d post a reply to this, but oddly enough I just posted my take on this to my own blog today.

    http://propheteer.org/index.php?p=208

    I happen to work at AOL, but I will never again post anything work-related. Not because of threats, but because if I accidentaly slipped and said something on my blog that was damaging to the company it would be no different than if I did so on national television. And far more permenant. I have little sympathy for those who lose their jobs because of their blogs, and rather think that blogging about work is better left ’til after you’re gone.

  8. It’s your signature…

    I wasn’t sure where to put this, so I’ll just add it to the root comments.

    In most (if not all) of my jobs, I signed something that says I will not discuss my compensation with anyone but my direct managers. I also signed non-disclosure agreements, saying I would not discuss anything work-related that had not already been disclosed to the press by the company. Freedom of speech doesn’t override contract law.

    Even once one of our voice actors mentioned in an interview that we were working on another <Insert Movie Title> game, we were still not allowed to confirm the nature of our project.

    1. Re: It’s your signature…

      Most non-compete and non-disclosure agreements have time limits. I -think- there’s a one or two year time limit on a non-compete agreement in Texas, and mostly, they are frowned upon. The big thing there is a ‘you won’t contact my customers’, not that you won’t compete with them.

      Same with disclosure agreements – gets silly to bind someone about a product that was supposed to have been released 6 months ago, and you were laid off 18 months ago. At this point, your knowledge is considered ‘outdated’, and it would be hard to persecute you for disclosure of trade secrets.

      1. Re: It’s your signature…

        At this point, your knowledge is considered ‘outdated’, and it would be hard to persecute you for disclosure of trade secrets.

        Actually, it’s EASY to persecute you. PROSECUTING you is a different matter.

        –Howard “the happy Pedant” Tayler

  9. SEC and other fun

    Don’t forget that many people could say things that can be reflected as insider trading. I know I work with the financials of my division of this company. I have to do all sorts of fun stuff if I intend to buy stock, sell stock, etc.. Anything I say about work could be construed as insider trading 🙂 Not something you want to mess with.

    1. Posting about companies

      Keep in mind that even whistle blowers mostly get canned, and have little to no legal recourse. So, even if your company is killing children in suburbia, and you go on the news to let the world know… you will probably be fired and in most cases will not work in that industry again. Not fair, but legal.

      I am with Howard here that in this case (and almost every other case where people suggest govermental oversight) the cure is much worse than the cause. As much as it hurts to have a company be able to fire you over whatever they want, the alternative is that the goverment get’s to decide what is “legal” and what is “illegal” talk. And personally I don’t think that they have been doing a great job of making some of those decisions lately.

      I guess since I have never really had a problem finding jobs, I am probably not the best one to talk about this, it might make a difference if I had to live for months or years while looking for work… but personally, I would hate to work for a company that would fire me for saying that the benifits sucked… if I heard that they fired someone else for something like that, I would be looking for another job immediatly! Disclosing company secrets (or even internal company information) is a totally different matter. Companies have every right, and in some cases a responsibility, to protect their intellectual property… if someone releases that information out, they should have action taken (although it might not warrent firing in some cases). But just firing someone who said they diddn’t like the boss, that’s just petty (although pretty stupid of the employee to say something in public).

    1. Re: ltue, booked & inbound!

      Well, I can guarantee that noone can take that comment and decide it’s insider information. Unless they speak fluent gibberish 🙂

      (Translation?)

      1. Re: ltue, booked & inbound!

        That`s LTUE, the life the universe and everything symposium on Science fiction and fantasy at BYU. As Howard said, “I am so there!”

        “Quan” refers to cash bribery for Schlock sketches.

        I`ll be at the Cottonwood Best Western by wed. night. Walking dist. to the BYU.

        “Woot!”- annoying display of exuberance at making it to the symposium.

        Sorry for the cryptic post, but way too much work, caffeine, etc. Happy to be getting out of town.:)

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