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Griping on the Net

Gripin’ on the Net

By Melynda Layton LLB

Currently Unpublished

Most employees bend the ears of family and friends about time pressures, the talkative colleague or the dim-witted boss.  Some may create nicknames for colleagues such as “Her Wretchedness” or fantasize about the day they command their boss to “smack my mo----fu----g bitch up!”  In January 2002, Heather Armstrong was fired after posting these thoughts and comments regarding her colleagues and superiors on her Internet web log. 

Employee griping is not a new topic rather it is the forum through which employees communicate their complaints that is cause for concern.  

Web logs (or blogs for short) are the latest Internet fad for providing quick and easily accessible information about an organization. 

Blogs are online journals including viewer posted comments on various topics such as work.  Blogs are gaining popularity.  According to Technorati.com, 23,000 new blogs are created daily. 

The availability of information through Internet communication vehicles has become an increased concern for employers.  These tools provide a medium by which employees can discuss their employer’s inner workings, trade secrets, or fellow workers.  Potential customers or industry rivals can easily find information with the use of search engines such as Google.  Blogs can impact both external and internal operations allowing employees to share information they would not normally communicate. 

There already is a handful of documented cases where employees’ blogging activities have lead to termination.  In January 2002, Heather Armstrong achieved notoriety when she was fired for her blog.  Armstrong never identified her employer or co-workers; but she did not make any attempts to conceal her own identity.  In her blog, Armstrong ridiculed and belittled co-workers and superiors. 

When Armstrong was called into a meeting with her supervisors to discuss her blog, she defended her actions arguing she never mentioned the company or any employee’s by name.  Despite her entreaties, Armstrong was summarily dismissed.  The company relied on its zero tolerance policy concerning “negativity” in defence of its actions. 

Armstrong’s firing has resulted in the coining of the phrase “dooced” (to be fired from a job for blogging) in honour of Armstrong’s website (www.dooce.com). 

Other documented doocings include Mark Jen who was fired by publicly traded Google after nine days of employment.  Jen was dooced after posting his opinions on Google’s internal revenue presentations and new products not yet revealed. 

Delta Airlines dooced Ellen Simonetti when they were made aware that Simonetti posted provocative photographs of herself in her flight attendant uniform.  

Being dooced is not just a U.S. phenomenon.  In July 2004,  Penny Chomondeley, a Nunavut Tourism Marketing Officer, suffered a similar fate.  During the six months she lived in Iqaluit, Cholmondeley maintained a blog with details about her life in the North, including her personal opinions on restruarants and photos of trash piled around town.  Although the blog was meant to keep Cholmondeley’s mother up to date it became very popular and received numerous hits from people looking for information on visiting Nunavut.  The Nunavut Tourism Board received an anonymous complaint regarding the blog, prompting Cholmondeley’s dismissal. 

While Simonetti commenced litigation against Delta Airlines for discrimination it is interesting to note that none of the people mentioned in this article commenced wrongful dismissal litigation.  This may very well change as more employees are dooced. 

Blogging is a relatively new phenomenon and the law with respect to employee blogging has yet to develop.  Most experts agree that law regarding employee blogging will likely develop in the same manner as employee e-mails i.e. employee policies regarding use. 

In the age of the Internet, blogging policies are a must.  Blogging policies inform employees what is acceptable by the organization should employees decide to create and maintain their own blogs.  Blogging policies may also serve as a deterrent to wrongful dismissal claims initiated by dooced employees.  

The following are basic guidelines indicating what should be included in blogging policies:

  • the policy must apply universally to all employees.
  • employees are governed by the guidelines provided for in the employee handbook in addition to the blogging guidelines.
  • the policy should indicate it applies to all modes of public communication on the Internet.
  • employees that identify their employer in their blog should add a disclaimer stating that the views of the blogger do not necessarily represent the views of the organization.
  • employees are not allowed to disclose confidential and/or sensitive information about the organization.
  • employees may not harass, personally attack or defame another person.
  • employees that maintain a blog do so at their own risk. 

The relative ease with which one may create and maintain a blog today may tempt employees to share their opinions and complaints about their employer with a world wide audience.  Creating an employee blogging policy will assist in keeping employee gripes where they belong – amongst family and friends.  

Special thanks to Devi Gopolan for her assistance with writing this article.

To ask a question or for further advice please contact Melynda at melynda.layton@careerlaw.ca or by telephone at 613-225-4400

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