On August 31, Monica Brenner (not her real name) was driving her 3-year-old son to day care when her BlackBerry rang. It was the human resources director at Brenner's work calling to tell her she was fired. The cause, Brenner says, was because her bosses at Nintendo discovered her personal blog, Inexcusable Behavior.
Brenner, a good-looking 23-year-old redhead who's married with a kid and lives in Redmond, can now be added to the ever-growing list of casualties in the workplace war on blogs. A Delta Air Lines flight attendant was famously fired for her blog in 2004. A programmer at Google and a barista at Starbucks have also been punted to the unemployment line after their bosses discovered their online journals. These employees weren't sharing company secrets. All they did was participate in the great American pastime: bitching about work.
Large tech companies like Microsoft have yet to put official blog policies in place. In an e-mail, a Microsoft spokeswoman said her company simply encourages employees to "be smart when blogging." Incidentally, Microsoft fired a temp worker for his blog in 2003 after he posted a picture of several Macs arriving at Microsoft's offices.
Brenner says she was never informed of any blog policy at Nintendo, but even so, she wrote under a pen name—although she posted pictures of herself on her site—and never mentioned her employer by name. Somehow, Brenner's bosses at Nintendo still found her site.
Brenner's page—inexcusablebehavior.spaces.live.com, which she refers to as her "daily mental vomit"—is essentially an online diary. She rambles about lunches with friends, smoking, old movies, and boob jobs. Brenner's former job as a technical recruiter at Nintendo—although she's technically a contract employee through Parker Services—was not directly referenced on her site. She also mentions several of her coworkers, although not by name, which is what Brenner thinks got her fired.
One post on Brenner's blog—titled "The Daily Weed"—begins with her disputing her friends' perception that she is a pothead. She digresses into a wry tirade against one of her bosses: "One plus about working with [a] hormonal, facial-hair-growing, frumpy [woman] is that I have found a new excuse to drink heavily," Brenner writes. "My gut tells me that this woman hasn't been fucked in years."
"We get a lot of calls from people who have been accused of defamation when they're blogging anonymously," says Rebecca Jeschke, a spokesperson for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "In most cases, these charges of defamation are pretty weak. There's a very strong tradition of anonymous speech in America and it's protected in the First Amendment."
However, Jeschke says labor laws vary from state to state, so free speech may not always be enough to protect a blogger from getting pink-slipped. According to the Washington State Attorney General's Office, there isn't anything in current Washington State law that specifically protects bloggers.
Nintendo spokeswoman Perrin Kaplin says Nintendo doesn't bar employees from having blogs, but "we generally don't encourage them." However, contradicting Brenner, Kaplin says, "[Brenner] was expressly discouraged from doing what she did. I've seen everything that she's written and it's really not work appropriate."
Now, Brenner is job hunting, taking care of her child and waiting for her husband to get back from a tour of duty in Iraq. "Thank god one of us is working." She sighs. "Ten years ago, someone would never get fired for their blog. This is such a sign of the times."
This article has been updated since its original publication.