- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2005

NEW YORK — Flight attendant Ellen Simonetti and former Google employee Mark Jen have more in common than their love of blogging: They both got fired over it.

Miss Simonetti had posted suggestive photographs of herself in uniform, while Mr. Jen speculated online about his employer’s finances. In neither case were their bosses happy when they found out.

Though many companies have Internet guidelines that prohibit visiting porn sites or forwarding racist jokes, few of the policies directly cover blogs — or Web journals — particularly those written outside of work hours.

“There needs to be a dialogue going on between employers and employees,” said Heather Armstrong, a Web designer fired for using her blog to comment on goings-on at work. “There’s this power of personal publishing, and there needs to be rules about what you can or cannot say about the workplace.”

On blogs, which are by their very nature public forums, people often muse about their likes and dislikes — of family, of friends, of co-workers.

About 27 percent of online U.S. adults read blogs and 7 percent pen them, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

With search engines making it easy to find virtually anything anyone says in a blog these days, companies are taking notice — and taking action.

“Because it’s less formal, you’re more likely to say something that would offend your boss,” said Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, a workers’ rights group.

Miss Armstrong, who wouldn’t name the company that fired her in 2002, said some of her bosses took issue with such posts as “Comments Heard In, Around, and Consequent to the Company Christmas Party Last Evening.”

Soon after she was fired, sympathizers coined the term “dooced,” meaning “to have lost one’s job because of one’s Web site,” in her case dooce.com.

In 2003, a Microsoft Corp. contractor was fired after posting photographs of computers from rival Apple Computer Inc. at a loading dock.

Because Michael Hanscom had described the building in his posting, Microsoft said he had violated security, he said.

Last fall, Miss Simonetti posted photographs of herself posing in a Delta Air Lines uniform inside a company airplane, her bra partly revealed in one. She was fired weeks later.

In January, Mr. Jen was fired by Google over a blog that discussed life at the company, even though, he said, “It’s all publicly available information and my personal thoughts and experiences.”

Upon reflection, Mr. Jen said, he understood Google’s concerns, given readers’ tendencies to read between the lines and draw conclusions based on “random comments I made.”

He said he hoped his case would prompt workers to “talk to their managers at length about blogging before they begin.”

Miss Simonetti said she still doesn’t know what she did wrong, and that plenty of employee Web sites and dating profiles identify Delta and include photos in uniform.

“If there is a policy against this, why weren’t all these people punished before?” she said.

Delta and Google officials would say only that Miss Simonetti and Mr. Jen no longer worked for them.

In 1997, blogging pioneer Cameron Barrett lost a job at a small marketing firm in Michigan after co-workers stumbled upon “experimental” short stories from his creative writing class on his site.

Now, he is much more cautious, and he suspended his blog while campaigning for Gen. Wesley Clark during the Democratic presidential primaries.

“I knew that everything I wrote would be scrutinized at [a] microscope level by the other campaigns and their supporters,” Mr. Barrett wrote in an e-mail.

Annalee Newitz, a policy analyst at the civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said employees often “don’t realize the First Amendment doesn’t protect their job.”

The First Amendment restricts only government control of speech. So private employers are free to fire at will in most states, as long as it’s not discriminatory or in retaliation for whistleblowing or union organizing, labor analysts say.

A few companies do encourage personal, unofficial blogs and have policies defining dos and don’ts for employees who post online. They recognize that there can be value in engaging customers through thoughtful blogs.


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