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Can I avoid getting the sack for blogging about work?
If there is a clear blogging policy, or you come to an agreement with your employer, you should have a clear indication of where you stand. Otherwise, here are some points that may help you assess the risks.
First, it is fair to say that in the current economic climate, it is probably unwise ever to blog anything to do with your work, without your employer’s clear written agreement.
Even if you believe that you are not identifying your employer, think again. If just one person – such as a work colleague – works out that you are writing about your employer and brings the blog to your employer’s attention and they don’t like it, there is a risk of dismissal on the basis of 'potential damage to the employer’s reputation'. Several recent employment tribunal decisions have shown that it takes very little evidence for a tribunal judge to be persuaded that an employer can be identified by an online posting. In some examples, the mere fact that someone drew the post to the employer’s attention, of itself, has been accepted as evidence that the employer must have been identifiable from the text.
Even if you think your employer’s reputation is not harmed by what you write, they may well not agree. Particular difficulties can surface where you write about political issues – for example opposition to government policies, or support for a particular political party. Your employer may well object to being identified with political opinions.
Second, you should not blog while at work, and obviously not on your employer's time. As blog entries carry the time and date, you can easily be caught out for posting an entry at a time when you should be working. And then there's the old-fashioned, low-tech risk of someone simply coming up behind you and catching you at it.
Just like other personal use of the Internet, blog-related activity can be picked up by IT departments monitoring traffic over your organisation's networks (see our section on Monitoring at Work for more details). For the same reason, you should blog using a personal computer – not one that belongs to your employer.
Third, remember that absolutely anyone can read it. This may well be one of the features that attracted you to blogging in the first place, but it's well worth keeping it in mind when writing about anything to do with work. Your employer, your colleagues, your family, your neighbours, the police, the Inland Revenue – if you have made your blog public, anyone will be able to read it if they know how to search for it. And when they do, it's in your interests that they don't find something to object to.
You may think you have limited the audience to your blog by, for example, only allowing particular social media 'friends' to read it. Think again. Employment tribunals treat the Internet as a public space. The fact that you tried to limit the readership of your blog to a select few readers chosen by you will not help you one iota if your blog ends up being read by your employer. Sadly, many tribunal cases of 'Internet misuse' come to the employer’s attention not because your employer has discovered the offending material online itself but rather because a disgruntled colleague has printed it off and passed a copy to HR.
Fourth, remember that the Internet never forgets, even if you later think you have deleted all trace of your blog. Two recent worrying cases have seen employers trawling through the Internet and taking disciplinary action based on historic internet activity. In one case, a pornographic email forwarded five years previously was successfully used to justify an employee’s summary dismissal. In another, an employee’s online joke to colleagues that he had been drinking when on standby (which everyone accepted was not true) was used to justify his dismissal two years later! This case highlighted another important feature of the Internet – which is that it doesn’t have a sense of humour. Something that seems like a funny 'in-joke', or banter between colleagues, is far less likely to seem funny to an employer engaged in a disciplinary.
Some of the concerns for employers about blogs are the risk of being legally liable for comments made by their staff, the release of confidential information, potential damage to their reputation, and problems with defamation and harassment.
Some employers take a particularly hard line. A woman working for a British accountancy firm in Paris was sacked for keeping a blog, even though it was about her personal life, was anonymous and avoided any identification of her employer. She did, however, put a picture of herself on the site, which her employer deemed was enough to make the firm identifiable and bring it into disrepute. The case highlights the fact that, unless there's a specific policy or agreement, you can never be sure what your employer will do.