Blogger sacked by Microsoft - a lesson for employers

Out-Law News | 31 Oct 2003 | 12:00 am | 2 min. read

Microsoft fired a worked in the US this week after he posted a picture of Mac computers being delivered to Microsoft offices in his daily web log, or blog. The company "let go" of Michael Hanscom four days after the picture went on-line, according to his own account.

Michael Hanscom had been working as a long-term temp in Microsoft's print shop when he noticed some Apple Power Mac G5s being delivered to the nearby shipping department. The G5 claims to be the world's fastest personal computer and the first with a 64-bit processor – a claim that will presumably have irked Microsoft.

Being a Mac owner himself, Hanscom took a photo, and posted it on his blog at michaelhanscom.com, under the heading "It looks like somebody over in Microsoft land is getting some new toys..."

But the amusing anecdote did not seem so funny when he was fired four days later.

The reason for dismissal, wrote Hanscom, was a "security violation." He explains: "The picture itself might have been permissible, but because I also mentioned that I worked at the MSCopy print shop, and which building it was in, it pushed me over the line."

Interest in the story has been intense. Hanscom comments:

"While I didn't plan for my post to generate the amount of attention that it's received, it has, and now Microsoft is facing a certain amount of bad press because of that. It may have been far better for them (on a PR level) to reprimand me and have me take the post down. However, I cannot fault them for making the decision that they did, however much I wish that that they had made a different decision. I goofed. I regret it, but the damage is done. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. ;)"

Blogging and employment law

Although the Microsoft incident occurred in the US, which operates a different system of employment law to that of the UK, it does highlight issues for UK employers who employ individuals who create personal blogs.

Robyn McIlroy, an employment law specialist with Masons, the firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, commented:

"If an employee posts inappropriate comments relating to or involving his employer on a personal blog, he may well face disciplinary action as Hanscom did in this case, albeit Hanscom was only a temp.

"Here, even though Hanscom was operating a personal blog, it affected the company he worked for and, apparently, breached conditions of his employment, particularly his obligations of confidentiality.

"Employers should be aware that more and more employees are setting up their own blogs and may well be updating them at work. Most employers allow their employees a certain amount of personal use of communication facilities during work time.

"In a worse case scenario employers might find themselves liable for the comments made by their staff, and blogging could also opens the door to problems of defamation and harassment. This may be a good time to check employment policies to see what they say about confidentiality and the extent of allowed personal use of the internet. If an employer wants to expressly prohibit blogging by employees at work that should be clearly stated in the communications policy and reflected in the disciplinary policy, and of course employees made aware of these restrictions on use."