"On Jan. 28, 2005, I was terminated from Google," Jen wrote on his blog, Ninetyninezeros. "Either directly or indirectly, my blog was the reason. This came as a great shock to me because two days ago we had looked at my blog and removed all inappropriate content...If I was told to shut down this blog, I would have."
Will Google stay
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Some say it's "the"
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Jen is just the latest employee to lose his job after a clash with management over public Web postings. Other examples include a Delta Air Lines flight attendant who was fired after posting photos of herself in uniform on her blog; a Microsoft contractor who took some pictures of Apple G5 computers being unloaded onto the software company's campus and posted them to his blog; and a Friendster employee who was let go over her Troutgirl blog.
The employee blog issue is doubly sensitive for Google, which became a prominent booster of blogging through its acquisition of Web logging pioneer Pyra Labs in February 2003. The company also has made a point of putting ethics before profits in its business operations, suggesting it holds itself to a higher standard of care for customers and employees.
Despite expressing shock over the dismissal, Jen wrote that he could "see where Google is coming from."
But Jen said that he disagreed with Google's decision, arguing that it is out of step with a trend that will likely grow only more powerful over time.
"I think blogging is the next big thing on the Internet...Corporations should embrace this technology just like the ones before it," he wrote. "Companies that are confident in their offerings should let employees spread the word. In today's age of information overload, blogging is quickly emerging as the fastest and most cost-effective method of marketing."
Google declined to comment, other than to reiterate its earlier statement that Jen is no longer a Google employee.
Blog at your own risk, legal expert says
Christopher Cobey, senior counsel at Littler Mendelson in San Jose, Calif., said that incidents involving blogging aren't really novel. Rather, he said, they simply extend legal concepts and issues that have been on the table since computers and the Internet first entered the workplace.
"This is an outgrowth of the continuing evolution of technology, from Internet access and use of computers at work, to similar problems we've seen with Web sites and e-mail," he said. "What it really comes down to is how people are using them, what they're using them for and how it's affecting their job."
Employers have considerable leeway to discipline employees over any public expression touching on the company's business or reputation, Cobey said. Workers in states governed by at-will employment laws, including California, are most at risk. But even workers covered by collective-bargaining agreements could run afoul of an employer's right to protect the company's public image, if they criticize the company or disclose confidential information.
Anonymity offers little protection if a blogger's identity is uncovered in a state with at-will employment, Cobey said. Nor are bloggers protected simply by conducting their activities from home on their own time, rather than at work during office hours, he said.
"Employers in at-will states have very wide latitude" to fire workers, he said. "Is it always fair or nice? No. Is it lawful? Yes."