Sunday, September 18, 2005

Blogs & Unhappy Campers

With the gut-wrenching horror of Katrina it is pretty hard to even think about anything else, much less write about anything else, but here goes anyway.

Since I am new to the "blogosphere" as they call it, I read with some interest (pre-Katrina) an op-ed piece in the NY Times by Jeremy Blackman entitled:
Job Posting. [Free registration required.] Essentially it was an argument that blogs posted by employees should be protected by law even if what the blog has to say would not make the company very happy.

It's an interesting question, and if it works like most things legal, it will be many moons indeed before there is enough case law to sort it out from a legal perspective. Given the way courts rule, I am not sure I would even make a wild guess as to how it would all turn out, but that doesn't mean that I don't have a point-of-view. Not that the fact that I have an opinion means much, or the fact that I have had the experience of being an employee, but I have also had the experience of being an employer for the past 17+ years. This fact doesn't make me unique either, but at least it has made me think about this maybe a bit differently that I might have had I only had the experience of being one or the other only. Funny how your perspective can change as your role changes.

I am sure that by now most of us have read about the instances where employees have been fired for what they have said about their employer on their personal blog. I guess the answer lies somewhere between freedom of speech and the lengths to which one has to go to prove libel, defamation of character, or damages as the result of lost business and probably a host of other legalisms about which I know nothing and fervently hope I never will have to know anything.

So the question before the house is: should bloggers who write about their employers be protected by laws? I think the question is, in large measure, academic, because I think they are now, and will continue to be as things evolve. The balance between managing the relationship between employers and employees it not easy. Employers ended up with unions because their actions over time "earned" them unions. We have laws against discrimination, and laws regarding minimum wages, and drawers full of other stuff because the actions of employers over time made it clear there was a need for them.

I am enough of an idealist to still believe (maybe “hope” is a better word) that for a very large percentage of the population on both sides of the employer/employee relationship you really don't need laws to protect either party. If you have decent people dealing with decent people, by and large, the right things get done, and the right things happen. It is when one side or the other tries to take advantage of the other that things go downhill in a hurry.

How do I net this out? I would say it this way -- It is one thing to bad mouth your boss or your company at a cocktail party or over some beers at a sports bar, but doing the same thing in cyberspace feels different to me. Should bloggers be protected? I guess my answer is to some degree yes, but not to the point where they are free to take shots at their employer because they are honked off by whatever.

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