Think back into the distant past for a momentâ€”way, way back to the frontier days of 2004. Although blogging had already been around for a few years, journalists for Canadaâ€™s National Post felt they still had to explain the term â€śblogâ€ť when they reported on the firing of Starbucks employee Matthew Brown. The Toronto coffeehouse supervisor had used his â€śblog, or online journal,â€ť to complain profanely about his boss. Starbucks got wind of the post and gave Brown the boot.
That was 2004. Youâ€™d think by now people would know to watch what they post electronically, whether itâ€™s on a blog, a social networking site, or in a company email. But electronic communications are still getting employees into hot water.
The odds an employer monitors employee blogs are 1 in 7.14, but more than twice as many employers, 1 in 3.13, monitor employee email at work. Most employees understand that company email is intended for business purposes, but even email sent through personal accounts through company-owned devices can be subject to monitoring. (A New Jersey court recently carved out an exception, but only for cases of attorney-client privilege.)
Many employersâ€”1 in 6.25, or 16%â€”monitor employeesâ€™ social networking profiles. You donâ€™t want to end up like New England Patriots cheerleader Caitlin Davis, canned by the team after Facebook photos appeared to show her writing anti-Semitic slogans on an unconscious prank victim. Or Ashley Johnson, a pizza waitress who used her Facebook page to complain about â€ścheapâ€ť customers and was promptly let go. You can also tweet yourself out of a job. A pizza chain employee was sacked after complaining on Twitter about new work uniforms. Is it something about pizza joints? More sobering, CNN correspondent Octavia Nasr recently lost her job for tweeting her â€śrespectâ€ť for a Hezbollah leader whoâ€™d been linked to terrorist attacks.
The odds an employer monitors employee instant messaging at work are 1 in 6.25. Several county employees in Florida found that out the hard way, when they were fired for using the countyâ€™s IM system to exchange â€śprurientâ€ť messages. Meanwhile, Fidelity Investments fired four Texas workers for participating in an office fantasy football league. (The financial firm considers fantasy football gambling.) League â€śCommissionerâ€ť Cameron Pettigrew was smart enough not to use company email for the extracurricular activities, but instant messages did him in, along with three other gridiron fantasists.
Your boss has pretty extensive rights to keep an eye on you. In general, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, employers can monitor your business phone calls, use software to look â€śover your shoulderâ€ť at whatâ€™s on your screen, and even use keystroke logging to monitor what you type.
So with all this, what have we learned? Be careful what you post, even on personal sites. And donâ€™t expect privacy at work. Not electronically, at least. Some people do manage to find some private physical space: 1 in 5.88 employed men and 1 in 12.5 employed women say theyâ€™ve had sex in the workplace.
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