Private blog wasn’t; man fired for blasting boss
Peter Brieger and Sean O’Shea, National Post and Global News, Friday, September 03, 2004
When does criticizing an employer become a firing offence?
That is the question a former Starbucks employee is asking after the ubiquitous coffee chain terminated him this week for profanity-laced remarks he made about a manager and the company on an Internet journal.
Matthew Brown, a 28-year-old Starbucks supervisor in Toronto, uses the blog, or online journal, to keep in touch with friends and family. The diary contained his thoughts, a place where Mr. Brown vented his frustrations about everything from personal issues to work. When a manager refused to let him go home sick, Mr. Brown sounded off about his boss from home. He said he didn’t use his real name, and gave the journal’s address to a select group of people, so he doesn’t know how the diary ended up in Starbucks’ hands.
”I feel violated,” he told Global News.
The coffee chain, which declined to comment, refused to say where the entries came from and fired its six-year employee on the day he was to begin management training.
“It was ignorant and rude,” Mr. Brown said of his comments. “But it was for nobody except my family and friends. I didn’t give the address to anyone at Starbucks. And I didn’t name the manager.”
Mr. Brown hasn’t decided whether to fight the dismissal. Starbucks employees sign a contract agreeing not to make negative comments about the company, he said.
“There are times when you’re frustrated, some people have treated you terribly that day, so you vent — just like in any job,” Mr. Brown said.”
There are plenty of stories about employees being reprimanded for using company e-mail for non-work purposes, or employers going after people who post Web sites defaming them.
Michael Church, a Toronto labour lawyer, said there is a stronger expectation of privacy when people send online messages outside work.
“It’s like you and I sending an e-mail from our home,” he said. “We wouldn’t expect it to be read by anyone else.”
Another employment lawyer said Mr. Brown may have violated his employment contract, regardless of where he made the remarks.
Rick Broadhead, author of Dear Valued Customer, You are a Loser, a new book about technology mishaps, says there should be little expectation of privacy on the Internet.
“Posting something on the Internet is like going to the corner of Yonge and Bloor in Toronto or Portage and Main in Winnipeg and holding up a big bulletin board,” he said.
Mr. Broadhead conceded the former Starbucks employee’s journal isn’t easy to find, but he added that postings like personal Web sites, are permanently archived on the Internet. He said some companies use corporate monitoring services to scan the Internet for mentions of their name.
This isn’t the first example of a worker getting in trouble over e-mail. An employee of a Web site known for promoting self-expression and online social networking was fired over her personal online journal, while a New York investment banker, who had moved to South Korea for work, was let go for sending an e-mail to former colleagues detailing his sexual exploits abroad.
“People are using the Internet to sound off about all sorts of things with the sense that the Internet is a bit lawless and they can say what they like,” said Michael Geist, a professor who specializes in Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa. “The challenge is to find the dividing line between what employees can say and what can be considered damaging to employers.”Powered by Sidelines