The high profile firing of a television reporter for remarks made on her personal blog highlights a growing and vexing problem facing many HR leaders.
Essentially, the situations many companies are dealing when these personal posting infringe on company efforts, reveal inside information, do not reflect well on personnel.
Company officials must decide at what point are these posting grounds for dismissal.
In the case of Shea Allen she blogged her dislike of interviewing old people and revealing she appeared without a bra.
Since she was a television personality, the question arose as whether these admission hurt her ability to deliver the news.
Clearly station management thought these and other admissions revealed details best kept within the company.
Station executives fired her three days after the blog appeared.
While some pundits have argued these admissions did not rise to the level permitting her dismissal, the case highlights the amorphous situation facing HR Leaders.
There have been other instances of employees being discharged for publicizing what should remain within the company.
As Karen Michael points out “This is an evolving topic that is complicated, but the bottom line is that in this case, the employee could have been fired. The only legal protection to this employee would be protections under the National Labor Relations Act.
An attorney and consultant in Richmond, VA, she adds “To get these protections (even in a non-unionized workplace) she would have to be engaging in concerted activity with respect to the workplace. Her activity was not “concerted” (meaning it was not a discussion between her and other coworkers) and as far as (I) can tell, she was not complaining about working conditions, she was just providing the public was an immature vent about whatever was on her mind.”
She said later, after being terminated, that it was meant to be “snarky and funny.” There is no protection for this type of conduct.
Michael adds there are states that prohibit employers from terminating an employee for personal and non-work-related activities. Alabama is not one of them.
In addition Michael says “the You Tube video where she says, "This is me in my car, waiting to do a story about nothing and getting paid less than most McDonald's managers." may be considered protected statements but because there is no evidence it was concerted this also is unlikely to fall under the NLRB protections.”
Clearly, this area will evolve over time but “blog surfing” by company management of employees is a risky slope best done carefully.