Work Blogger, Beware: The Perils of Journaling Your Job

Master Sgt. Linda Adams updates her blog, which allows her to keep in touch with her students while deployed. In addition to being an Air Force reservist, Adams is a teacher at Kate Shepard Elementary in Mobile, Ala.
Master Sgt. Linda Adams, 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron consolidated tool kit NCOIC, updates her blog, which allows her to keep in touch with her students while deployed, Nov. 24, 2009. In addition to being an Air Force reservist, Adams is a teacher at Kate Shepard Elementary in Mobile, Ala. (Tech. Sgt. Jason Edwards/379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs)

There are many reasons you might blog about your job. You may want to brag about your accomplishments, vent about your cheese-moving coworkers or sociopathic boss, reveal whom you caught with whom on the floor of the server closet or simply recount the day's events as a way of decompressing.

Whatever your reasons, if you blog, you take on all the liability and employment security risks that come with publishing to a potential readership of a billion people -- even though the actual size of your audience may be just a handful of people or no one.

Work Blogging Risks

How is blogging different from just putting up a personal website? "The difference is that the easy-to-use tools available for blogging take away the barriers to getting online," said Rebecca Jeschke, a spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a civil liberties advocacy group.

The danger to blogging about your job comes when you allow no-brainer publishing technology -- together with a mistaken sense of anonymity -- to embolden you to record observations more appropriate for a private, paper-based journal than a global electronic network.

"People need to think long and hard about whether they're comfortable blogging about work in an unprotected way," Jeschke says.

One workplace blogger puts it even more plainly: "When you start a blog, you have to assume you're going to be found out," says the anonymous author of Waiter Rant, which chronicles the trials and tribulations of a New York City restaurant server.

Being fired for blogging, which is known as "getting dooced" in the blogosphere, really happens -- and when it does, it often gets lots of news coverage. Delta Air Lines, Google, Ladies Home Journal, Wells Fargo and an Ohio congressman are among the employers that have reportedly terminated workers over their blogs.

Still, only 3% of companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management said they had sanctioned bloggers, and none had fired them, according to a CNET report. And according to a recent Monster poll, when asked whether they ever blog about work, 58% of respondents answered, "What are blogs?"

Legal Perils of Blogging

As with many other forms of publishing, work-related blogging carries an array of legal perils, including libel and defamation; infringement of intellectual property rights such as trademark, patent and copyright; and breach of company confidentiality and other restrictions in a worker's terms of employment.

Where should a wannabe blogger begin? "If the company has a policy on blogging, that's the first thing that workers should check," said Stephen Lichtenstein, a law professor at Bentley College.

Most workers shouldn't blog under the illusion that free-speech rights will protect them from their employers, either. "The First Amendment only restricts governmental control of speech," said Robin Bond, a lawyer and consultant to Fortune 500 executives.

Still, special forms of speech may be somewhat protected. "If you blog about unionizing, you may get more protection than you would otherwise," Jeschke said. Whistle-blowing, airing political opinions and reporting the goings-on in a federal workplace may also be protected, depending on state law, according to EFF.

EFF has published a safe-blogging guide that covers how to blog anonymously as well as the defenses you might mount against an employer who attempts to retaliate against you for blogging.

Anonymity: Not as Foolproof as It Looks

Many bloggers seek to write anonymously by changing names and other identifying details. "Being anonymous is very important, because it allows me to say what I want to say," said the Waiter Rant blogger, who has achieved some notoriety in the blogosphere.

But bloggers shouldn't assume that their attempts at anonymity will be successful. One slip -- or a betrayal by a former confidant -- could land a blogger in big trouble with his employer or the law. "I'm advising my clients not to be deceived by the sense of anonymity," Bond said.

What if a worker changes identifying details in his blog about work but is still found out?

"I would be hard-pressed to find a law that would prevent the employer from firing a worker in that situation," Bond advised.

The Waiter Rant blogger says he's not worried. "I don't dish on people," he said. "I don't write too much about co-workers, and when I do, I ask permission first."

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