FAQ: Blogging on the job

Summary:Being a blogger can get you in trouble nowadays, at least if you write something that sufficiently vexes your employer.

Being a blogger can get you in trouble nowadays, at least if you write something that sufficiently vexes your employer.

Delta Air Lines last year fired flight attendant Ellen Simonetti because of her blog. Friendster, Google and Microsoft also have waved goodbye to employees or contractors who, in the opinion of a corporate manager, were unacceptably indiscreet in their online scribblings. As the popularity of blogs grows and search tools get better, such intracompany tiffs are likely to increase.

In an effort to separate fact from fiction, CNET News.com offers this list of frequently asked questions -- from an American perspective -- about blogging at work and at home. Feel free to contribute your own thoughts and experiences in the "talkback" section at the end of this article.

Can blogging hurt my career?
If you're already employed, your blog could get you fired. Delta Air Lines, Friendster, Google, Microsoft and Wells Fargo have all reportedly fired employees or contractors over the content of their online journals. In most cases, the bloggers were let go for either criticising the company or fellow workers, disclosing embarrassing or confidential information or otherwise offending the boss' sensibilities.

How risky is blogging really?
Blog firings are relatively rare. In a recent survey of 279 human resource professionals by the American Society for Human Resources Management, just 3 percent of companies reported disciplining bloggers and none reported firing anyone for blogging. You're more likely to get in trouble for fooling around online or downloading music at work. About half the companies in the survey said they've fired or disciplined employees for Internet use that was unrelated to work duties.

Blogging is a pretty new activity. Is my company likely to have guidelines and policies about it yet?
Few companies have created policies that specifically address blogging. But most corporate policies already address many issues related to blogs, such as protecting confidential information, upholding the company's reputation, and Internet use at work.

Can my employer fire me if I blog from home on my own time?
Yes. The odds of your company perusing your blog is slim. "But if your boss should see your blog and be offended by something there, in most [US] states you have virtually no protection against being fired," says Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute in Princeton, N.J.

Wait -- does that mean that where I live matters?
Yes. California, New York, Colorado, Montana and North Dakota recently have enacted laws limiting when an employer can fire you based on something you do off-duty that's not related to your job. Note that blogging isn't singled out for special treatment in those state laws. "The broader issue is, 'Can your boss fire you for something you do in your private life he doesn't like?'" Maltby says. "In five states he can't. In 45, he can." (The Michigan legislature soon may consider a similar measure.)

Topics: Google, IT Employment, Social Enterprise

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