Everyone, it seems, is blogging these days; an astonishing 80,000 new blogs appear every day. But problems arise when employees blog about work. The following eight tips, from Blog Rules: A Business Guide to Managing Policy, Public Relations, and Legal Issues, by Nancy Flynn (AMACOM, 2006) will help you express yourself without losing your job.
1. Blogging about your job or your boss may get you fired
Employees have been fired for blogging about their employers' people, products, and services. Employees have been fired for posting photos of themselves dressed in their company uniforms while off duty. Employees have been fired for posting embarrassing photos about the goings-on inside companies. Employees have been fired for alerting the blogosphere to what a jerk a particular manager is or what a joke a company's policies and procedures are.
At the end of the day, blogging (negatively or positively) about your job or your boss is likely to get you fired—regardless of whether you blog at home or at the office, with your equipment or the company's, or anonymously or under your own name.
2. Familiarize yourself with your employer's policy first, blog second
Don't blog until you read (and understand) all of your organization's employment policies, including the organization's blog rules and guidelines. Familiarize yourself with the company's blog rules and policy, electronic communications guidelines, code of conduct, confidentiality rules and policies, sexual harassment and discrimination guidelines, and any other rules and policies your employer may impose. Violation of any employment policy, whether committed on a blog or another electronic communications tool, can get you fired.
As reported by London's TimesOnline, a whopping 94% of employees in the United Kingdom are unaware of their companies' blogging policies. If you don't know whether your employer has a blog policy that governs both business and personal blogging, be sure to ask first and save the blogging for later.
3. The first amendment does not protect bloggers
Do you believe that the First Amendment grants you the right to say whatever you want on your personal blog? Many U.S. bloggers mistakenly believe that the First Amendment protects their jobs. It doesn't. The First Amendment only restricts government control of speech; it says nothing about private employers. That said, legal experts note that blogging by state or federal employees may be protected by the First Amendment.
4. Employment at will means you can be fired for any reason—including blogging
Do you work in an employment-at-will state? If you do, watch those blog posts! Private employers operating in employment-at-will states are free to fire employees for just about any reason, including blogging, as long as it is not discriminatory or in retaliation for whistle-blowing or union organizing.
Laws prevent employers from terminating employees on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, age, religion, disability, and sexual orientation in some places. But when it comes to blogging, even keeping your personal blog clean of work-related material won't necessarily protect you from termination.
As attorney Daniel M. Klein of Atlanta-based Buckley & Klein told the New York Times: "It doesn't matter if you blog about skydiving or pornography. If your employer feels the blog makes you a poor representative of its corporate values, the executives have the freedom to disassociate themselves from you."
5. Know the law: some bloggers have protections not available to at-will employees
According to the National Workrights Institute, five states—California, New York, Colorado, Montana, and North Dakota—have recently enacted laws limiting the circumstances under which an employer can fire an employee for an off-duty activity that is not related to the job.
In addition, employee-bloggers in states with anti-SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) statutes may have some recourse against employers who are found to have "improperly quashed their employees' First Amendment rights" in connection with blog-related activities.
The National Labor Relations Act offers bloggers some protections if they are writing about wages or working conditions. And bloggers who are employed by the government or belong to unions may have some protections not available to at-will employees.
6. Beware: employers are prescreening job applicants' blogs
The Society for Human Resource Management reports that some employers are taking time to review prospective employees' personal blogs. Blog search engines make it easy for prospective employers to check out job applicants' blogs. Do you really want to give a prospective employer one more reason to reject you? If you're in the job market, consider deactivating your blog or focusing solely on content that is certain to appeal to a prospective employer by highlighting your professional expertise or positioning yourself as a thought leader.
7. Remember: anyone can read your posts—forever
Thanks to the permalink, a unique Web address is created for every posting on a blog. Bloggers link to one another's posts, which typically remain accessible forever via the permalink (unlike Web pages, which are subject to change and removal). The permalink creates a double-edged sword for business, giving blogs "a viral quality, so a pertinent post can gain broad attention amazingly fast—and reputations can get taken down just as quickly." For employees, the permalink means that any nasty comments, gossip, rumors, insults, and criticisms you may have posted about your manager or your company are out there in the blogosphere just waiting to be discovered. In other words, an ugly post may not get you fired today, but it could cost you your job a month, year, or decade from now.
8. Modify or deactivate your comment function
As a blog publisher, you may one day be held legally responsible for readers' comments. Don't allow your blog to be blindsided. Consider deactivating or modifying the comment feature of your blog, or require readers to register before posting comments. For maximum protection, screen readers' comments pre-post to avoid publishing content that is defamatory or inaccurate, violates copyright law, reveals confidential information, or otherwise is inappropriate, offensive, or in violation of laws, rules, regulations, and policies.
Learn more about Blog Rules and other AMACOM titles.
About the Author(s)
American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.