Monday, January 10, 2005

Okay, just one more, but this burned my keister...

The following post- dated Thursday, Jan 6th, pardon the delay- is from a long-time bookseller at Waterstone's chain in Edinburgh, Scotland. In his spare time, Joe writes a highly-disclaimed humorous personal blog which does infrequently refer to his work or bosses, as many humans do. For this, apparently, he's been fired. According to Joe's report, there was no complaint about any of his work. In fact, if we take him for accurate, over his 11 years with W's, he's performed in a praiseworthy fashion.

Joe blogs :
I pointed out once more that I was outraged that a company seemed to think it had the right to tell an employee what opinions they could articulate in their own time. I asked if I repeated some of the articles they found offensive in the blog to a friend in the pub would that not also be defaming the company by the logic they were employing here? I was not answered. I pointed out that this was like the Thought Police and invasive of my rights. I was told that if I discussed anything to do with work then I was representing the company and must conform to their rules. Obviously I dispute this strongly – this is like saying we have a new feudal system where companies are the lords and employees are mere serfs who they own. How can I possibly be considered to be representing the company on my own site in my own time? In fact do not most companies around the world have riders attached to their email saying explicitly that any comments within are not necessarily those of the company? So why do they assume I am talking for the company on my own site in my own time? That makes no sense to me.

I am not a serf; I am not an indentured servant. I am a free man with the right of freedom of expression. The company does not own me, body and soul – conforming to their rules at work is to be expected, but in your own time and space? How can anyone be expected to go through their personal life in fear of saying the wrong thing? No-one should.

This has left me dreadfully upset. That a company I have given so many years to could treat me in such a brutal manner is despicable. That a book company thinks so little of the primacy of freedom of expression is alarming. I pointed out that Waterstone’s has stated publicly several times in the past that as a bookseller they believe in the freedom of expression and not in censorship. In fact a campaign was mounted a few years back which had banners along the lines of ‘what did Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot have in common? They feared the power of the written word. Celebrate Freedom of expression with us.’ Some folks may recall it. I asked if this was actually meant or was it simply cynical marketing? I was not answered.

I realize this is a different country, a different situation- perhaps. But with the explosion of blogging, it's worth paying attention to how companies respond to the online, off-the-clock comments of employees. Will the "any publicity is good publicity" theory dominate, or will new employees start being required to sign agreements specifically prohibiting identifying themselves or their workplaces?

Unfortunately, I'm rarely surprised by the depth of hypocrisy among those who trumpet freedom of expression with hyperbolic vigor. It is never the strident who astound me with their tolerance.

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