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The Legal Side of Blogging – Part 3 of 4: Can My Blog Get Me Fired?

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am a law student. In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice. It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

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This is a question that has an obvious answer – yes, your blog can get you fired.

People have always done things that could get them fired – saying bad things about their company, clients and coworkers; breaking the company’s rules; disclosing confidential information; and stealing from the company – but now they are making it more obvious that they are doing it.

My general rule is don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper.  When it comes to keeping your job, don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to your boss’ face.

There are some amazing true stories about disturbing things people have done online in relation to their work:

  • Whole Foods CEO John Mackey was investigated by the SEC for posting anonymous messages that praised his company and condemned Wild Oats Market, his company’s competition.  (Poor form!)
  • An Illinois attorney allegedly posted an ad for a secretary in Craigslist’s adult section and told an applicant that her job responsibilities included dressing sexy and having sexual interactions with him and another attorney.  (Seriously?!)

How did these presumably intelligent people think that they might get away with this?

Companies have realized that online posting by employees can be good or bad free advertising, and are taking steps to protect their reputations by creating guidelines about what employees can and can’t say online.  I’m not a big fan of my employer telling me what I can’t do when I’m on my own time; however I appreciate it when I have clear limits about what I can and can’t do.  I like to push the envelope, but I don’t like getting fired.  Some of these guidelines are pretty obvious – don’t share confidential information, don’t bash the company, its employees, or its clients – but some employees won’t follow these rules unless they’re laid in stone, and maybe not even then.

Having a blog makes you more vulnerable than other social media profiles because it’s open for everyone to see it.  Facebook and Twitter let us control who can see what we post, but with a blog, your words are shared with the entire internet-accessible world.  When in doubt, don’t share information about your work on your blog or anywhere else online.

Employers are getting smart about these things and are Googling job applicants and looking for their profiles on Facebook.  They can’t discriminate against someone based on their race, religion, or sexual orientation, but they can choose not to hire someone because it looks like their preferred weekend activity is beer pong.  A lot of employers are looking at whether a person generally displays good judgment and won’t hire a person who does not act responsibly in their personal life.

I generally discourage people being stupid.   However, I have an exception for those who are genetic morons who can’t be cured with education: keep being stupid.  Make it blatantly obvious how stupid you are so those of us who are not stupid don’t have to waste our time on someone who might clean up and put on a good front, but who ultimately is a moron.

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