"Managing People with Morecrofts"

Can blogging lead to dismissal? – A blog on blogging

by Thomas Sutherland

Thomas Sutherland - HR

I love a good blog. Goodness knows I write enough of them!  Since working here, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to blog about topics as varied as sexist air conditioning, MPs playing candy crush, perfume, The Simpsons and good ol’ Santa Claus. 

That said, some serious topics close to my heart, including mental health and disability, have also been the subject of blogs in order to raise awareness.  Some things in life are worth being serious about and they are certainly included in that list.

Naturally, however, I was intrigued to learn of the risks incurred by employees who like to blog! 

I should point out immediately that simply writing a blog is not likely to be grounds for dismissal - my job would be at risk if it was!  However, it appears there are certain situations in which a blog (along with any other social media posting) would allow an employer to take disciplinary action against an employee, which could include dismissal.

A lot depends on the nature of the business. If an individual’s role involves confidential information, publishing trade secrets in a blog is very likely to be viewed as a serious matter.  On the other hand, if an employee merely blogs that he is ‘tired after a long day at work’ or has ‘had a tough day at work’, that is an entirely different matter.

Whatever the scenario, an employee should always be aware that a personal blog, with inappropriate content, could give grounds for disciplinary action should the employer find out.  What is inappropriate content?  Well, there is no exact definition, but this would most likely involve any offensive, defamatory or discriminatory comments and/or anything disclosing confidential information.

A simple test is whether the comments damage the employer.  If the comments don’t damage the reputation or the interests of the employer in any way, they are highly unlikely to be sufficient grounds to warrant dismissal.

Some employees try to mitigate this risk by posting the blogs anonymously or under pseudonyms.  However, this is not fool-proof as an employer can potentially obtain an order for the disclosure of the identity of the blogger from the host website – as shown in the case of Totalist plc v The Motley Fool.

And now for the stage in my blog where I like to highlight an unusual case.  This week’s choice being the 2008 case of Walters v Asda Stores, in which the manager posted a Facebook message stating that although she realised she was supposed to love her customers, hitting them with a pickaxe would make her far happier.  The employment tribunal found that her employer, Asda, had put too much weight on the fact that she was a Manager in their decision to dismiss (i.e. they wouldn’t have sacked someone in a position lower than Manager) and, in doing so, failed to consider any mitigating circumstances. The tribunal therefore ruled that the dismissal was unfair.

Obviously, the above case shows that, even in cases of poorly chosen comments about work, dismissal is not always the correct response.

A good strategy is to only say something in a blog that you would consider it appropriate to say in front of your employer’s clients.  Naturally, should any employee be in any doubt as to what they can and can’t blog, I would advise them to check their employer’s IT policy and/or policy handbook accordingly.

So, can you be dismissed for blogging? Yes, albeit only in certain circumstances. My advice? Stick to the sensible blogging topics – Santa Claus being a good starting point

Find out more about Thomas Sutherland here.