Blogging Off

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Be careful what you reveal about your workplace.

Readers may remember at the beginning of the year the media coverage of Joe Gordon, an employee of Waterstones in Edinburgh, who was sacked because of comments he made on his blog. Joe's 'crime', in the eyes of his Waterstones managers, was that his comments online brought the company into disrepute. His supporters pointed out that Joe's website hardly mentioned his job, just an occasional moan about his boss. Such cases are going to become more of an issue. There are dozens of examples already, particularly in the US, where bloggers who write about their jobs have lost their jobs.

It's only recently that such workplace blogging has become common in Britain. The blog of Tom Reynolds is probably the only blog detailing the day to day experiences of an East London paramedic. Tom's blog is one of the most popular and well written workplace blogs, yet in the US there are hundreds of blogs by emergency workers.

Blogs like these are probably so popular because they offer insights into the lives of others - obviously the blogs of firefighters and paramedics are often exciting and unusual, but there are a surprising number of blogs by people in more 'mundane' jobs.

'Call Centre Confidential' was a blog following daily life in a call centre that received a huge numbers of visitors and ran for two years. You can still read the archives which document the annoying mundane life of people in a call centre and how they cope.

'The Report Card' is the blog of a teacher, 'Mental Nurse' the diary of a health worker working with the mentally ill, and 'Station Log Book' is the online presence of a central London underground station supervisor. There are countless more - from a road cleaner in New Zealand to nightclub bouncers in New York.

I like to think that workplace blogs are a small act of rebellion - they are the way the writers can anonymously moan about their boss, or their job or the petty rules at work. Often the authors are explicit about this - the teacher who writes 'Report Card' says that she loves her job, but 'there are certain things that drive me crazy and make my job more difficult, which is what you'll find here'. Others just find that blogging helps deal with the day to day stress.

However, blogging about your job is filled with dangers. Firstly, as the case of Joe Gordon shows, they are rarely anonymous. It's simply not possible to write in detail about your job and colleagues for long before it becomes possible to identify you. And the confusing laws about libel and defamation still apply to the internet. You might think your boss is a bastard, but posting it online could get you into real trouble. Most people will have a clause in their contract saying that it's a disciplinary offence to bring their company into disrepute, and you will be on thin ice if you do this on a personal website, even in your own time.

The TUC's Worksmart website is an excellent resource for questions about the use of the internet and email at work. It could probably do with an update with a guidance on what you can and can't say on a blog about your job.

There is no doubt that the temptation to complain about life at work online to a potential audience of millions will be something that workers will increasingly take up and there are likely to be many more people like Joe Gordon who find that their bosses don't see the joke.