I’ve got to admit my ignorance, I’ve only just discovered the verb “to dooce” and what a great word it is! There are various definitions but most include ”to lose your job because of something that you wrote on your blog”. Rather incongruously, it can also mean to be afflicted with constipation, although if you were about to lose your job because you spilled the beans on your employer, it’s unlikely that constipation would be your main concern.
It was the recently reported case of Kimberley Swann, the 16 year old girl from Essex, who was fired from her job as an adminstrator because she described her job as ”boring” on Facebook that brought me up to speed with this addition to the language. For those who missed the story, Miss Swann worked for a company called Ivell Marketing & Logistics in Clacton which is, I’m sure, a fun and exciting place to work. She had only been there three weeks when she posted an entry on Facebook stating that her job was “boring”. Remarkably she didn’t even name her employer and it was only her colleagues with access to her Facebook page that put two and two together and informed the company.
She was sacked on the basis that her comments were a “display of disrespect and dissatisfaction [that] undermined the [working] relationship and made it untenable”. In other words a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence that needs to exist between employer and employee. Tellingly Kimberley had only been employed for three weeks and therefore had not acquired her employment rights. In particular, because she had not got 12 months continuous employment experience with the company, she could not sue them for unfair dismissal.
In my view had she been able to sue them the employers would never have taken this action. It was clearly unfair. The comment was not made during work hours but when she got home, so there couldn’t have been any issue about her not having her nose to the grindstone whilst actually at work. Furthermore she did not mention the company’s name online so the effect of her words would be very limited indeed.
Finally, from the reports I’ve read the employer did not undertake any investigation or disciplinary process. Under the current law (which will change on 6th April next) that makes for an automatically unfair dismissal (had she been eligible to apply).
Many employers now seem to have rules and policies about the use of social networking sites during working hours (Jobsworth, of course, has few friends so the issue doesn’t arise for him) and more general internet usage policies have been in the workplace for as long as we’ve had the internet. Repeated breach of such a policy might be a cause for dismissal after a proper investigation and appropriate warnings had been given. Using the company’s computers to download pornography would constitute gross misconduct. Employers need to consider carefully how their internet usage/social networking sites policies operate and what sort of behaviour they want to prevent, but I cannot imagine any policy being able to prevent what is, after all, probably just fair comment made outside work hours and not using work equipment.
The employer’s actions were really a vast over-reaction. The TUC General Secretary, Mr Brendan Barber, said employers needed to have thicker skins when dealing with comments on social networking sites and that they wouldn’t dream of following their staff to the pub to see if they “were sounding off about work to their friends”. Quite right too. However, having read the report of the story in The Mirror I wonder if the key to the story isn’t with the sentiment contained in the comment but in the actual words she used. Apparently she wrote “first day at work!! So dull … im so totally bord (sic)”.
One further definition of dooce is “to write repetitively on a subject for at least four years”. I’ll be bearing that in mind from now on.