The case of the first UK worker to be dismissed for criticising his employer in an online diary should serve as a wake-up call for organisations and their HR departments, lawyers claim.
Joe Gordon, who had worked at an Edinburgh branch of book store Waterstone’s for 11 years, was sacked earlier this month for “gross misconduct” and “bringing the company into disrepute” through the comments he posted on his weblog.
Gordon said he had offered to stop posting anything about his working life in the online diary when the company called a disciplinary meeting.
But, according to his union, the Retail Books Association, Waterstone’s rejected his plea, despite not having any guidelines on whether employees are allowed to keep weblogs.
With up to five million people around the world posting online diaries of this kind – known as ‘blogging’ – the Employment Lawyers’ Association (ELA) advises employers to formulate policies on what staff can say about them.
“It is worth having a specific policy – not just about internet postings, but on criticism that can bring the company into disrepute,” said Suzanne McKie, deputy chair of the ELA.
“You do not want to spread it so wide that it covers stuff being said in the pub, but ‘written’ and ‘in a public forum’ should suffice.”
However, McKie warned, some criticism is protected, such as when an employee has a legal obligation to raise an issue.